Dear Guy at an Upscale Phoenix Cocktail Lounge in a Tank Top,
You are why we can't have nice things.
There, I said it. And no, that's not a random, made-up reference. I was actually out at a fancy new bar -- er, "cocktail parlour" -- on a recent Saturday night and noticed another patron wearing shorts . . . and a tank top. I won't even get into the fact that man-tanks are almost never okay (unless you're at the beach) because what I really want to address is the fact that we'll never have truly upscale spots if we treat even the best eating and drinking establishments our city has to offer as if they are nothing special.
To be fair, the bar I'm talking about doesn't have a dress code posted online or anywhere else. So technically speaking, Mr. Tank wasn't breaking anything besides the last straw on this camel's back. On the other hand, should you really have to tell grown adults (presumably the only ones going to a bar on a Saturday night) to put on pants and maybe a real shirt before going to a place where drinks cost $12 each?
But I'm not just picking on this lone, under-dressed patron; I'm sick of under-dressed people everywhere.
For snowbirds and resort-goers it's fun and freeing to be able to go out to a nice dinner in shorts and a golf shirt while visiting the Valley. Dining in the Wild West means never having to break out your button-up or high heels! Hooray!
But it's fun to them because it's the exception, not the rule. After a few years of dining out in this town, it's no longer fun to me.
There's something to be said about a restaurant that takes itself seriously enough to insist customers dress in a particular way, a way that demonstrates that they understand that their dining or drinking experience is going to be something special. Dining out is like a performance with roles played by everyone from the chef and waiter to you and the other restaurant patrons. Is it really fair to let a chef and front of the house work their tails off to create a magical, theatrical experience, only to have it undermined by some bozo who can't be bothered to put on a real shirt?
My Catholic parents will hate this comparison, but I value dressing up to go to a nice dinner the same way I value dressing up to go to church. It's about respect, respect for the people who work hard to make your experience a memorable one. Wearing clothes that show you care about how to look when you enter someone else's space -- be it a chef, restauranteur, or the big guy upstairs -- is one very clear way to demonstrate your appreciation for what they do.
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Which is why I say we'll never have nice things unless we start treating the places we have nicely.
Yes, casual is good and fine sometimes. Probably most times. But I do want a place where I can get a drink or a meal in a nice dress and high heels, a place where everyone makes a mutual agreement to wear "fancy" clothes so no one get embarrassed for being under or over-dressed. In that sense a dress code is also a social boon, ensuring that everyone enters the restaurant on equal footing, whether packing an AmEx Black Card or not.
Maybe I'm just old fashioned or even a clothing snob and, sure, I've gotten lazy with my attire a time or two. But I can honestly say I'd rather be turned away for a wardrobe faux pas than continue on this t-shirt and flip flop road.