Come as you are

One thing I love about Memphis is that it is relatively unpretentious for a big city.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to attend the opening night of Cinderella, the ballet at the Orpheum. Looking around, I noticed how many members of the audience were in jeans. And it wasn’t just young kids; many of the people I see every month in the society pages, the “upper crust” if you will, had jeans on. That’s pretty cool. Can you imagine wearing jeans to a fine theater in Boston to see the ballet? Or New York? Probably not. But in Memphis it’s perfectly acceptable.

Recently a new restaurant, Stella, opened down the street from where I live. The interior is elegant, and the menu is up there with any of the fine restaurants in Memphis. I know the owners – used to run into them on the South Main Friday night art tours all the time. So, one day I was walking home and bumped into them. They told me the restaurant was open and encouraged me to come in and see them. “Well, I have shorts and sandals on right now,” I said. “Maybe sometime when I’m dressed more appropriately, I’ll come in and have an appetizer and glass of wine.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it!” they said. “Come as you’re dressed. We don’t care! We just want you to enjoy yourself and be comfortable.” I really appreciate that. A few days later I did go in – wearing a nice shirt and khakis. It’s a classy place and I wanted to look good for them. But the fact that I could go in wearing shorts – and they wouldn’t mind – means a lot. It earns my respect, makes me want to go there more than I otherwise would.

Stella isn’t the only upscale restaurant downtown that understands Memphis’ casual vibe. I have heard the owner of McEwen’s say that he doesn’t care if people come in wearing shorts, as long as they’re enjoying the food and wine. And, I read an interview with the owner of Automatic Slim’s and Cielo not long ago, in which she said the same thing.

Some places persist in trying to force a dress code on a city that doesn’t want one, though. There’s a fine-dining restaurant close to my apartment building – even closer than Stella – that puts “jackets preferred for gentlemen” in their listings. It has been open over a year, but I haven’t been in. I prefer not to be told what I’m “preferred” to wear.

And there’s a restaurant a couple blocks further down the Main Street Mall, in the Pembroke Square area, that I’ve heard has gotten snotty with a couple of my friends – one for not having a jacket on, the other for coming in wearing jeans. When Mpact had their After Hours at this place last month, I made it a point not to attend.

But, enough about them. To the businesses that let you come as you are, who understand that T-shirt-and-jeans money is just as good as suit-and-tie money, I raise my glass to you in appreciation. And I look forward to bringing some of my friends to your business and raising our glasses in person. Thanks for keeping it real.