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NEW YORK — As any society dame knows, it never hurts to get a nip or a tuck. And that grande dame of New York restaurants, La Grenouille, took a two-week “vacation” and came back with a facelift: a new facade on 52nd Street and a redesigned bar area with its very own bar menu.

Before the renovation, La Grenouille’s exterior featured one long window and a single curtain. “The element of privacy was nice, but people felt intimidated to come in,” says Charles Masson, whose father opened the restaurant in December 1962. When walk-ins came by, they’d be further daunted by the elegance of the interior and the maitre d’ in black tie. “They’d say ‘Oh, this is too special, we’ll come when we have a special occasion.’”

This story first appeared in the April 8, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

After three difficult years involving union trouble and the restaurant drop-off after Sept. 11, 2001, Masson decided it was time for a change. “We have made the space look much lighter and more cheerful,” he says. And food, including items such as an endive salad and tuna tartare for $14.50 each, is now served continuously, from noon to 11 p.m.

“We had to address the people who don’t have schedules, who forget to make reservations or who want to have a quick bite,” Masson adds. “It’s not a bistro or a brasserie. It’s still La Grenouille, but it’s about spontaneity, and spontaneity is now a luxury.”

Though some customers hemmed and hawed and said the cosmetic surgery was unnecessary, Masson pointed out to them that the restaurant has been making any number of changes since it opened. Originally, the kitchen was tiny — now it’s three floors; the settees used to be vinyl, now they are velvet, and there used to be acoustic tiles on the ceiling. “My father always wanted to do this,” explains Masson. “And I told my mother to be around here so they didn’t think I was doing it all behind her back.”

— M.H.

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