A trio of super-chef friends — Michelin-listed Albi’s Michael Rafidi, Anju and Rammy’s restaurateur Danny Lee, and Stephen Starr’s entrepreneur Marjorie Meek-Bradley — have entered the Shōtō du downtown Saturday night for a drink, but only two were allowed in. .
Meek-Bradley was refused entry because she apparently violated modern Japanese izakaya dress code by wearing what the restaurant classified as flip-flops (although her shoes were bright yellow Birkenstocks). Shōtō’s dress code policy, which is communicated at the time of booking, via confirmation emails, again when calling to confirm and for walk-ins, is as follows: “As a friendly reminder, SHŌTŌ Washington DC operates a smart and smart casual dress code. Please note that no sportswear, jerseys, shorts, beachwear or flip flops are allowed.”
“This is certainly not to be taken personally, and in fairness our team wants to make sure we are consistent,” managing partner Arman Naqi said in a statement emailed to Eater. “We don’t and can’t make exceptions based on who the people are – even if they are fellow chefs and restaurateurs whom we greatly respect.”
The three chefs immediately took to their personal social media accounts to post and repost Instagram stories about the Saturday night snafu, noting that Shōtō asked if Meek-Bradley could come out and change his shoes.
The chefs ended up going around the corner to dine at the New Orleans-themed Dauphine.
“To be clear, the reason dress codes are so problematic is that it’s impossible to enforce them consistently,” Lee wrote on Instagram. “It allows sexist/classist/elitist/racist thinking to guide the application of these ‘codes’.” on that, I can help be part of a solution.
Meek-Bradley criticized Shōtō for being “too cool for school”, arguing that Birkenstocks are not flip flops. Lee points out that his own attire that night looked like it came out of a kitchen but was still fit for Shōtō standards (a Yalla brand baseball cap from Rafidi’s Yellow Cafe and what he called “orthopedic shoes”) .
“I would welcome any future opportunity to host Chef Marjorie, Chef Danny and Chef Michael, and I personally apologize if they have been offended by our policy,” Naqi said in a statement.
Interestingly, a Washington Capitals star wearing red sweatpants, Alexander Ovechkin, was spotted at a Shōtō table one night during the first few weeks it was open with a sneaker-wearing table mate.
“I appreciate and welcome constructive criticism – it really means a lot to me,” Naqi, who is a fellow DC native, said in a statement. “However, and especially between people in the local industry, I was put off by the way they chose to approach this on social media.”
It’s no secret that the highly anticipated Shōtō strives to be a stage location. Three years in the making, the stunning 155-seat Midtown Center debuted in February with an ultra-luxury look from a top Tokyo-based restaurant designer (1100 15th Street NW). Consisting of an elegant sushi counter, bar and Japanese robata grill, Shōtō is the newest member of London restaurateur Arjun Waney’s brand collective. That includes Zuma, a high-end sushi restaurant and izakaya with 18 locations around the world – and its own list of prohibited clothing, too. At Zuma Miami, this does not include “shorts, flip flops/sandals, baseball caps, sportswear, and tracksuits.”
Although Naqi acknowledges that not all restaurants have a dress code, he says customer feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive” since opening.
“Many noted that they were excited to dress up to celebrate life, friends, family and special occasions (especially coming out of the pandemic),” Naqi said in a statement. “With this in mind, we strive to create a refined environment that reflects this notion.”
Naqi points out that Meek-Bradley’s employer, Starr Restaurant Group, has “similar verbiage” regarding dress code on some of its websites and reservation confirmation emails.
“I really hope Chef Marjorie understands that I personally had to make a conscious effort to dress elegantly many times at her and Stephen’s restaurants, such as Le Coucou,” Naqi said in a statement.
The policy of this French-themed Soho reservation does not prohibit items such as flip flops, but does state: we politely ask that you dress your best for your evening with us : elegant for a night out in New York. Jackets are not compulsory.
Dress codes are a common point of contention due to the subjective way at least one establishment has treated them in the past. In 2017, a bouncer at El Centro DF turned away a black customer wearing high-top leather Converse sneakers, while allowing white customers to enter in the same shoes. (In response to the negative press, the tequila bar fired the bouncer who refused the customer entry — and removed the sneaker policy.)
Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group, which experienced a surprisingly similar incident at Greek seafood venue Ouzo Bay in 2020, has formally pledged to “NOT” have a dress code at its upcoming DC bars from the Moxy hotel.