Manhattan Diners Freed of Necktie Oppression

Posted by R.K. Gella

2009 was destined to mark change.   The banners called for it.  We rallied when our new president orated the word.  We expected it, albeit a week into his term, even when it occurred swiftly and abruptly – it was expected.   There was an Executive Order to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a freeze on White House salaries, and the passage of an 825-billion-dollar economic stimulus plan.

Indeed, 2009 is destined to mark change.  But there were other changes occurring outside our president’s primary concerns, a modification that signified an evolution or devolution, a seizure upon a heralded tradition adversely deemed restricting and conformist.  This alteration in rule concerned the necktie and its presence around the collars of male patrons at the 21 Club in Manhattan.

Since its incarnation in 1922, venerable restaurant and lounge has upheld a strict dress code, insisting male patrons dine in a jacket and tie.  Today, the rules have been relaxed, allowing patrons to dine throats exposed (except for the private dining rooming denoted the Wine Cellar).

Ties are “preferred,” — indeed, “greatly appreciated.” And mind you, gentlemen, your jackets must stay on.

The repeal of the policy could mark the demise of the “jacket and tie” rule in Manhattan as the Rainbow Room, the only other establishment to enforce the particular dress code, is currently in critical condition, only open on selected Fridays and Saturdays.  (There are 13 restaurants in the city that still require jackets.)

However, as expected not all are enthused.  Traditionalists, perhaps recalling the eras of John F. Kennedy, Ernest Hemmingway, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, for whom the establishment has been known to store private wine collections, feel the alteration in the rules is a degeneration of decorum.

Michael O’Keeffe, the owner and proprietor of the River Cafe, expressed his remorse to the NY Times.

“Etiquette is on a downward spiral, and politeness is disappearing…I will miss the tie policy at ‘21.’ It held up an example of what etiquette could be.”

To the proponents of change in apparel, etiquette is not the target, nor does it need refuge on any endangered list; in fact the loosening of the tie rule is more of a style choice above anything else.

Julian Niccolini, a partner at The Four Seasons restaurant, asked simply, “Why should I tell people how to dress?”

The Four Seasons abolished the necktie rule in the late 90’s.

As a manager of La Grenouilles keenly remarked to the NY Times, there was a period when men had to wear white wigs too.

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