Some of the industry’s oldest-school properties are finally shaking themselves loose from hidebound traditions regarding not only dress, but also facility decor and their general club atmospheres.
One of the club dining experiences I remember most vividly came long before I began to cover the club industry, and it had nothing to do with the food. It came when I had to watch a friend squirm uncomfortably throughout a dinner at a club we had both been invited to, because he was a Californian who hadn’t brought a jacket and was therefore asked to wear an ill-fitting, club-issued blazer that didn’t match anything else he was wearing.
My friend was a good sport about it, but it always stuck in my craw that it had to come to that. I didn’t get why 1) our host (a club member) couldn’t have appealed to management for some leniency or 2) why the staff had to be so officious about enforcing the requirement (and downright eager to do so).
And to be honest, once I began to cover the industry and hear many GMs describe their struggles with jacket- and denim-related issues, I still didn’t really get it. There had to be a better way to have the old-schoolers and the up-and-comers come to a better understanding about which each could, and couldn’t, wear within the confines of a property they were each paying to use.
Thankfully, it appears we’re now making a lot of real progress in that area. There were several reports recently of how some of the industry’s oldest-school properties are finally shaking themselves loose of hidebound traditions regarding not only dress, but also facility decor and their general club atmospheres.
In Chicago, the 138-year-old Union League Club announced that it is now allowing denim in all areas of its building. And the 130-year-old University Club of Chicago, which is building a new $13.5 million, 15,000-sq. ft. addition to take advantage of its fortuitous location overlooking Millennium Park, announced that “smart casual” dress, including jeans and Bermuda-length shorts, will always be allowed in the new area, which will house a vast living room with TVs, couches and food and be open until midnight, plus a new deck that is triple the size of the club’s current outdoor space.
Separately, a report about the 144-year-old Hartford (Conn.) Club described how its first-floor members lounge has been transformed after a $100,000 renovation to now have hardwood floors (instead of carpeting) and high-top tables and stools (instead of stiff upholstered chairs).
Equally encouraging as reading about these changes was seeing the comments made by the clubs’ members and managers about the thinking behind them. “We are making a real effort to be part of today,” said Bill Nissen, President of the Union League Club of Chicago. “We don’t want to be antiquated.”
Even better, Nissen reported there was little pushback when the Union League Club Board proposed removing the denim ban. “There probably is something lost,” he said. “But I think more is gained than lost.”
Hopefully, what’s being lost also includes all those ties and jackets that were kept in club dining rooms for people who forget to bring one—as well as the overbearing servers who couldn’t wait to hold them out disdainfully to any dress-code “offender.”