It was a definite shock for longtime Beverly Hills resident Joan Benny when she walked into the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel last week, on Feb. 6, for her 1 p.m. lunch reservation with her friend Ellen Gelson and was informed that her attire was not appropriate for the restaurant.
Dressed in white jeans, a light blue designer jacket over her white blouse, Benny was certain she looked elegant. A very small straw fedora with a narrow brim and white trim completed the look and that hat, as it turned out, happened to be the offending culprit to an enjoyable lunchtime experience at the Polo Lounge.
“The first thing I thought of was Jackie Kennedy with her little pill box hat, she always looked perfection,” Benny recounted to the Courier. “Can you imagine? Jackie Kennedy going to the Polo Lounge and being asked to take off her hat!”
Born in 1934, daughter of famed vaudevillian Jack Benny and actress Mary Livingstone, Joan Benny moved to Beverly Hills as a one-year-old child, the family initially taking up residence on Beverly Drive in a house that belonged to Charlie Chaplin.
Benny told the Courier she had been coming to the Polo Lounge since she could remember. Indeed, the iconic gathering spot has hosted countless luminaries and others since it first opened in 1941, in an era when men and women often donned hats as a normal part of their wardrobes.
“There was a time when a hat completed your outfit and you didn’t ever take your hat off until you got home,” Benny recalled.
While the Polo Lounge staff offered no explanation as to why the policy was in place, they did inform Benny, she said, that it was relatively new at two months old. And ultimately, the manager did allow her to sit down to lunch with her outfit intact, although cautioning that next time she would need to dine sans chapeau.
While speaking with the manager about the policy, Benny recounted that another women with a little black beret arrived and was seated without incident. “He told me it wouldn’t have been fair to have asked her to remove her hat when I was going to be allowed to keep mine on,” she said.
A spokesperson for the hotel told the Courier that policy had “always” been in place, but the restaurant had been “strictly” enforcing it now for over a year.
A simple search on Instagram revealed multiple photographs of people wearing a variety of hats seated in the Polo Lounge over the course of the previous months.
“We do allow hats for religious purposes,” the spokesperson wrote the Courier, noting that women’s dress hats were allowed.
The Polo Lounge webpage on the Dorchester Collection website displays a “Dress Code” policy which reads: “We kindly ask our guests to adhere to a smart casual dress code when dining in the Polo Lounge. The following items are not permitted: hats, athletic wear, swimwear, tank tops and flip flops (including rubber and plastic thongs). Shorts are not permitted after 11 a.m.”