On New Year's Eve, Beccy Rogers donned a black suit with a fur collar. She selected sparkling earrings and a necklace, and finished the look with a glitzy clip in her long hair, pulled back into a tight bun.
She has welcomed the new year in the outfit for as long as she has worked at Newport Beach's iconic Ritz Restaurant & Garden. But after 30 years, this would be her last.
The Ritz, which first put down roots near the Newport Pier in 1977 and then moved years later to the more upscale Newport Center, will shut its doors Feb. 15, the victim of changing tastes and a landlord who wants to move in "a different direction."
FOR THE RECORD:
The Ritz: The headline on an article in the Jan. 7 LATExtra section about the closure of a Newport Beach restaurant said the Ritz had been open for 30 years. It has been in business for 37 years. —
The Irvine Co. opted not to renew the restaurant's lease, choosing instead to convert the space into something other than a restaurant. The Ritz's owners are hoping to find a new location, but nothing has been finalized.
With trendy restaurants such as Javier's, Fig & Olive and Red O on the scene, perhaps time simply took its toll on the Ritz, a fixture among Orange County's elite, who would gather for dinners served by a friendly staff adhering to strict formal dining standards.
"It was the movers and shakers that were there," said Jim Allen, who frequented the Ritz for lunch. "It was, at the time, the place to be seen."
Allen likened the restaurant in its heyday to a sort of country club and a home base for many businessmen. The most loyal joined the Ritz Brothers, who gathered five times a year and donated to charities. The Ritz Sisters, a similar group, formed later.
Allen recalled taking clients out for martinis at lunch and seeing well-dressed women come in at the fashionable hour of 1:30 or 2 p.m.
"There was a time when no other restaurant could even come close," said Laurie Virtue, the restaurant's controller. "We were it."
But with competition and an evolving clientele, the restaurant has changed. Walk-in booths with privacy curtains were removed and a garden was added. The paintings on the walls were taken down and exchanged for more contemporary pieces. In the bar, which reminds many of "Cheers," televisions were installed.
The dress code also loosened, allowing men to slip in without ties and freeing female employees to wear something other than tuxedo shorts and black heels, although the red lipstick remains.
"Over the years, you kind of have to change a little bit to keep things new," Virtue said.
Still, with decor of dark wood, mirrors and leather booths, the atmosphere evokes a time past, when the restaurant operated under restaurateur Hans Prager, who transitioned operations over to a new partner in 1997.
On New Year's Eve, Rogers prepped her staff, reviewed the menu and discussed when New Year's tiaras should be passed out. She warned servers to keep track of customers and checks when Table 28 was removed to clear space for dancing.
"We want to go down as the best," she said later. "I don't like change, but I have to accept it."
[For the Record, Jan. 7, 2014: An earlier headline on this article incorrectly said the restaurant was 30 years old.]