NEW YORK (AP) — It's the 21 Club for the 21st Century.
In a concession to changing sartorial norms, the storied Manhattan restaurant known for its traditional atmosphere and powerbroker clientele has stopped requiring men to wear ties at dinner. The change took effect Friday, spokeswoman Diana Biederman said.
The management realized standards of proper dress have changed, and the economic downturn has made the 79-year-old establishment more conscious of encouraging business, she said.
Neckwear became optional at lunch years ago. "Why should we say no to somebody who wants to have dinner with us (for lack of a tie)?" Biederman asked. "Times change. … We have to move forward."
The past has always been prized at the former speakeasy off Fifth Avenue, at 21 W. 52nd St., owned by Bermuda-based Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. A row of 1930s cast-iron jockey statues — originally symbols of patrons' private stables — flanks the front door, and antique toys and sports memorabilia line the Bar Room's walls and ceiling.
Presidents have dined there since Franklin D. Roosevelt's day. Forbes magazine once wrote that "more deals are done at '21' than on the stock market floor."
John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra had favorite tables at 21, and Humphrey Bogart proposed to Lauren Bacall there. It has appeared in films ranging from the 1950 Bette Davis classic "All About Eve" to 1987's "Wall Street."
Through it all, the restaurant put its foot down about neckties, more or less. Sammy Davis Jr. once arrived wearing a turtleneck under his jacket and looped the tie the restaurant lent him around his head, according to the eatery.
Some patrons lamented the end of the tie requirement as a sign of ever-scruffier times.
"When you lower the standards, people act accordingly, and this formality is one of 21's appeals," retiree Irene Blazey told the New York Post.
But others saw the tie rule as stuffy and applauded the restaurant for being flexible.
"It's great that they are open to new things," banker Shirley Cou, 23, told the newspaper.
Still, 21 is hardly going casual: Men still must wear jackets, and jeans and sneakers are out for everyone.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.