A longtime resident of the Queen City commented recently that Burlington seems to be experiencing what he called "groaning pains": As a small city grows, people bump up against each other more often. As a result, they have a natural tendency to organize and defend their personal space.
Case in point: As reported in Seven Days last week, a gaggle of downtown residents got together in June to address some concerns over loud music and obnoxious patrons from the bars, early-morning garbage trucks and other noise in the 'hood. Then they formed the Downtown Neighborhood Association to do something about it.
Now the bar owners are having their say. Recently, several local proprietors decided it's high time Burlington had a tavern association to speak on their behalf. The Burlington Bar and Nightclub Assoc-iation (BBNA) was formed to address what members see as a rising tide of new restrictions on their ability to do business.
"There's a lot of stigma that goes along with being a nightclub or bar. And there are certain factions in the community that look upon us poorly," says Robert Rapatski, manager of Millennium Nightclub and one of the organizers of the BBNA. He says the recent attempt by the city council to roll back the hours of live music from 2 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. was only the latest in a string of new rules and regs governing everything from drinks on the dance floor to how straight patrons' waiting lines are on the sidewalk.
"We're constantly being scrutinized as business owners," says Martti Matheson, owner of Rasputin's and a co-organizer of the association. "The American dream is to own your own business and we want to protect that."
Last week, the group sent out letters of introduction to bar and club owners throughout the city to gauge their level of support. Two other bars -- Nectar's and Parima -- have already signed up, and several others have expressed interest. Rapatski and Matheson say their goal isn't to gripe or collect a lot of dues, but to foster a more positive image of Burlington's nightlife and give something back to the community -- not to mention address city council and others about their concerns.
BBNA organizers are talking about providing their members with services such as breathalyzers in the bars and additional training for bar staff in recognizing fake IDs. Their mission statement also includes charitable elements -- community fundraisers, block parties and cookouts for kids. While they're at it, they might also consider a primer course for bar patrons on appropriate tipping of their wait staff.
Speaking of bottoms up, a group of local naturists -- the politically correct term for nudists -- has decided to unite against the John Ashcrofts of the world who equate nudity with perversion and would drape a fig leaf over every bare breast and exposed derriere. Friends of Lake Champlain (FLC), as these folks are calling themselves, say they want to protect the dwindling number of public beaches, sunning areas, swimming holes and other recreational spots where Vermonters can let it all hang out.
"We cannot continue to allow the conservative fringe, religious right and other close-minded people to do as they please while we say and do nothing and allow our nudist areas to be taken away from us," states a recent email from the group. FLC has been exploring the feasibility of launching a "Vermont Nudist Land Trust" for the purpose of purchasing and/or protecting nude recreation spots.
The effort was prompted by several recent incidents around the state, including one at the Ledges in Wilmington, a public swimming area that draws hundreds of people on warm summer days to its clothing-optional beach. Following an incident last year involving a garment-free female sunbather and a voyeuristic "bushwhacker," the town voted to ban nudity at the Ledges. This year, local residents raised such a hue and cry about this clothes-minded reaction, the town rescinded the ban and restored "buff bluff" to its natural state.
Huntington Gorge has also been a popular spot for the undressed set. But recently, some naturists have complained that local cops are starting to crack down, pointing video cameras at naked swimmers and sunbathers and otherwise making for a less-than-relaxing outdoor experience. This despite a 1971 memorandum to all Chittenden County police departments from none other than then-state's attorney Patrick Leahy, entitled "Unclothed Public or Semi-Public Bathing." Leahy wrote, "In secluded areas sometimes publicly used (e.g. rivers, swimming holes, etc.), if no member of the public present is offended, no disorderly conduct has taken place." In other words, let 'em be.
Though a few au naturel public places remain in Vermont -- including three on Lake Champlain -- Friends of Lake Champlain is reluctant to expose them, fearing that would only invite gawkers and other unwanted attention. "They're sort of fragile, so to speak," says FLC's Owen Mulligan. "It's nice to have a place to go where you won't get harassed when you're doing something as simple as taking your clothes off and enjoying the water and the sun."
For more information on the FLC and the nude land trust, contact Mulligan at 355-5247 or visit www.nudevermont.com.