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Not everyone is worried about the “Y2K problem,” the inability of some computers to recognize the upcoming year 2000. The house committee at Mory’s, the venerable club for Yale students, alumni, and faculty, recently resolved—with collective tongue in cheek—to “do nothing about it” in the hope that when the clocks strike midnight this New Year’s Eve, the club will be returned to the year 1900.
For Mory’s, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch. While the club would find itself in a different clapboard house (on Temple Street, where the Chapel Square Mall is now located), there would still be Welsh rarebit on the menu and Elis at the tables. The continuity should come as no surprise. In its century and a half of existence, Mory’s has earned the devotion of a protective membership that sums up its mission in a three-word mantra: “Keep Mory’s Mory’s.”
Just exactly what that directive means is always up for debate. There have been bruising battles through the years over changes that some feared would destroy the club’s essence, and there may be more in the future as Mory’s tries to adjust to changing social conventions. But as the club celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, it still bears a striking resemblance to the hospitable ale house that Yale students first encountered so many years ago.
There is surely no place quite like Mory’s. By day, it is Yale’s de facto faculty club, where professors and administrators go for quiet quasi-official lunches, but by night, it harbors large, loud groups of students singing and drinking. It has no formal connection to the University, but it is a place where, as board of governors secretary Cheever Tyler '59 describes it, “the traditions of this College are encapsulated.” It was not for nothing that actor Tom Hanks visited Mory’s while researching his role as a Yale-educated “Master of the Universe” in the film The Bonfire of the Vanities."When you take people there, they’re immersed in what Yale means,” says Tyler.
Mory’s did not start out as an exclusively Yale institution, but students from the College did not take long to adopt it. Some members of the Class of 1863 discovered the ale house, which was then on Wooster Street, while returning from crew practice on New Haven Harbor. The bar had been founded by Frank Moriarty, an English-born railway mechanic, and his wife Jane in 1861. Characteristically for a place that favors the old, Mory’s frequent claim that it was founded in 1849—on which this year’s celebration rests—is apparently erroneous, but no one has shown any interest in correcting it.
Moriarty’s unpretentious, friendly bar soon became a popular student hangout, and in the late 1860s the Moriartys moved closer to campus, opening what they called the Quiet House, on Court Street, just at the edge of downtown. The Quiet House became a fixture of Yale life, as students came to drink dark ale and eat Mrs. Moriarty’s rarebits in a place with, according to the official history, the “conventional quiet and order and decency of the English grill room.”
In 1876, after Frank Moriarty died, Mrs. Moriarty (“The Widow,” to her customers) moved to a more upscale location at the corner of Temple and Center Streets. By then, students had already begun to view Mory’s as a shrine as well as a saloon. George S. Chappell of the Class of 1899 later remembered that he and his classmates felt obliged by tradition to “drink still ale, which we did, pretending to enjoy it though it was horrid stuff, as bitter as gall.”
Jane Moriarty died in 1885, and the Temple Bar was taken over by one of her waiters, Edward G. Oakley. It was under Oakley’s management that the tradition of Mory’s cups—silver-plated loving cups full of alcoholic concoctions that are passed around the table—was initiated. (See sidebar at left.) While Oakley was popular with students—he extended every undergraduate a $20 line of credit and served a round on the house whenever a student paid his bill—his alcoholism and poor business skills eventually led to his downfall, and he was forced to close the bar in 1898.
A year later, a German immigrant named Louis Linder bought Oakley’s lease and reopened the bar. Linder encouraged Yale singing groups to frequent the place, and in 1909 a quintet began to meet there every Monday night. They named themselves the Whiffenpoofs (after a mythical animal described in a popular musical of the day), and produced the signature “Whiffenpoof Song” that, when recorded in 1936 by Rudy Vallee, made Mory’s famous as the “place where Louis dwells.”
Just after the Whiffenpoofs enshrined Mory’s in song, the bar itself was transformed from a commercial establishment to something very different. In 1912, developers had cast their eyes on the Temple Bar, and Linder, whose health was failing, had decided to close the place. The outcry from students and alumni convinced him to change his mind, but Mory’s fans were determined to make sure the bar outlived Linder. A group of them formed the Mory’s Association, a nonprofit corporation, and bought the federal house at 306 York Street that the club now calls home and transferred the furniture and furnishings from the old location. Mory’s was saved, but its character had been permanently changed. While still a restaurant and bar, it was now something else, too: a self-conscious monument to Yale life.
The club was set up with a board of governors, elected by the membership, who hired and oversaw the work of the club’s steward, an arrangement that continues to this day. Any undergraduate (except freshmen) who had a sponsor could become a member for life after paying a modest fee. The club now has 16,000 members—12,000 of them non-dues-paying life members—which its governors claim makes it the largest private club in the world. (The granting of life memberships was discontinued in 1972.)
As a club, Mory’s also began to attract a wider clientele, as faculty members and alumni started appearing among the students at the battered tavern tables. Although Yale had a proper faculty club (in the historic Pierpont House on Elm Street) beginning in 1922, Mory’s became the favored place for committee meetings and see-and-be-seen lunches. So powerful was its allure that in 1977 the Faculty Club was forced to close. (The building is now the University’s visitors' center.)
Mory’s enjoyed its status as Yale’s established saloon without incident until the College became coeducational in 1969. Then, the club’s single-sex status became increasingly conspicuous, and great pressure was put on Mory’s to follow Yale’s lead and admit women. The board of governors balked, perhaps finding it hard to see how it could “keep Mory’s Mory’s” while letting in women. The decision angered many members, who gave up their life memberships in protest, and the club soon found itself embroiled in a legal battle that resulted in Mory’s losing its liquor license. At that point, the governors relented, and Mory’s admitted women for the first time in 1972. (The expansion of the membership to include graduate students was accomplished in 1991 with only a harrumph or two.)
The presence of women notwithstanding, Mory’s still has the air of a 19th-century ale house, thanks to the careful curatorship of the board of governors and its committees, which pay close attention to details ranging from the placement of memorabilia to the offerings on the menu. A visitor to Mory’s today finds a set of rooms decorated with Yale team pictures and oars hanging from the ceiling, bare wooden tables carved with initials, and rickety bistro chairs. Manager Carl Bauer, who has run the club since 1985, says that keeping the club looking the same as ever is harder than it might seem. Patrons recently had to endure construction work to replace rotting floor joists in the 183-year-old house; when it was over, Bauer knew he had succeeded when vexed members asked “What did you do? It doesn’t look any different.”
Bauer, a veteran club manager who was born in Chicago but spent his youth in his parents' native Germany, is the tenth person to manage Mory’s since it became a club. While he is in charge of day-to-day operations, it is maitre d' Wayne Nuhn who is best known by Mory’s patrons. “Wayne is exceptional, a great maitre d',” says board president Herbert Emanuelson '51. “He can recognize someone who hasn’t been there in years and call them by name.” Nuhn, who started at Mory’s as a busboy in 1960, is responsible for, among other things, making sure parties of students—and alumni—don’t get out of hand.
A Monday night visitor to Mory’s will also still encounter the Whiffenpoofs, who sing for their supper and frequently earn free cups from appreciative fans. “Mory’s is my favorite part of being a Whiffenpoof,” says business manager Max Mednick '99. “It’s a wonderful way to mark the time.”
But for all that has remained the same about Mory’s, there have been changes over the years. While the evolutionary process comes slowly to Mory’s (Emanuelson says it took 30 years of lobbying to get ice cream added to the menu) the club has had to keep pace with social changes. All the rooms were once thick with cigar smoke on a busy night, but smoking was banned (except in private rooms upstairs) two years ago. The menu has been expanded to respond to changes in eating habits, too. “You can still go in and get liver, Baker’s soup, and rarebits,” says board member Melanie Ginter '78. “But you can also get a lovely salad with dijon vinaigrette dressing. They’re willing to cater to more modern tastes.”
But the biggest difference between the Mory’s of today and that of Louis Linder’s time is that undergraduate patrons are a distinct minority, outnumbered by the alumni and faculty members who use the club. This trend raises questions about the club’s future, since the members who cherish it most are the ones who learned to love it as students. But since 1984, when the drinking age in Connecticut was raised to 21, most undergraduates have been unable to participate legally in some of its traditions, most notably the passing of the cups. While all undergraduates are eligible to join Mory’s, only those who are 21 are able to drink there.
The drinking age isn’t the club’s only problem in attracting undergraduates. Its prices seem high to students accustomed to pizza and fast food (Mory’s dinner entrees are in the $20 range), and the requirement that men wear jackets and ties in the evening is off-putting to many students. “We’re fighting the myth that Mory’s is a stuffy place,” says board member Christopher Getman '64.
For the time being, the board is not prepared to abandon the jacket-and-tie rule, although it makes exceptions on the evenings of home football or hockey games. “If you’re going to keep Mory’s Mory’s, you’ve got to have a jacket and tie,” says Emanuelson. But the club has tried a compromise solution. Five years ago, Mory’s introduced an evening “pub menu” on weeknights. Students and other patrons—with or without jacket and tie—can eat sandwiches and rarebits priced in the $7 range in the front downstairs dining room. But the response has been tepid at best. “It hasn’t taken off as we'd liked,” says Nuhn.
Mory’s does attract its share of undergraduate regulars, especially students who come to feel at home there through frequent visits with a team, a singing group, or a Political Union party. (PU members nearly overrun the place at lunchtime on Friday.) Michael Bernstein, a Morse College junior from San Francisco, frequents the club both for Tory Party toasting sessions and for quiet lunches. “I go there for lunch once or twice a week with a couple of friends,” says Bernstein. “It’s a nice atmosphere, with more decorum than the dining halls.”
But for most undergraduates, even the 500 or so who are members of the club, Mory’s is a place to go for a big night out: for team or club banquets, for birthdays, or for entertaining parents. “Undergraduates save Mory’s for specialoccasions,” says Melanie Ginter. “We used it as a gathering spot.”
While the early histories of Mory’s don’t say so directly, one can imagine that the students who happened on the Moriartys' saloon approached the place with a certain ironic amusement, indulging in what later became known as “slumming.” Nearly 140 years later, students still look at Mory’s with an air of irony, but for the opposite reason: Mory’s is a place where an undergraduate can put on a tie—and put on the dog, trying on the cultural drag of a romantic past.
“Going to Mory’s is a connection to an older Yale with more tradition,” says Bernstein. “To entertain the notion that one is returning to that era for a few hours is very appealing.”
But while some choose Mory’s because of its aura of a bygone Yale, others eschew it for the same reason. Last fall in the Daily News, Adam Gordo, a junior in Branford College, described Mory’s derisively as a place where “a bunch of modern-day Yalies… get dressed up, get drunk, and worship the tables carved with initials of the hundreds who preceded us here” and warned that “if we seek exclusion during our time at Yale, we will seek similar exclusion after we graduate.”
It is true that Mory’s remains a private club, and new members must be sponsored by a member and approved by both a membership committee and the board of governors. But any student or other Yale-affiliated person is eligible, and admission is more or less assured. “How exclusive is it if any student who applies gets in?” says member Lauren Willig '99. “The nice thing about Mory’s is that it has the trappings of old Yale without any active practice of elitism.”
In the 1990s, that is the challenge behind “keeping Mory’s Mory’s.” The club’s governors and members continue to try to strike a balance between preserving Mory’s traditions and preserving its attractiveness to students, whom the governors all say are its most important constituents. While some have suggested that the club open its membership to people outside the Yale community, the board has so far rejected that idea, maintaining that Mory’s is, at its essence, about Yale.
Maybe that’s why Mory’s governors tell a certain story about fast-food magnate Ray Kroc with such amusement. When the man who built the McDonald’s empire visited Yale, he was taken to lunch at Mory’s. He admired the club greatly and, after lunch, made a proposition. “If you give me the franchise,” he said, “I’ll put a Mory’s on every college campus in the country.”
The proposition was declined, politely.
What’s in Those Things?
There’s no mention of Mory’s “cups” in the “Whiffenpoof Song,” but the silver-plated, double-handled vessels filled with alcoholic punches are nearly as famous as the musical theme. In a ritual that dates back at least to 1886, Mory’s patrons who dare to order the concoctions are presented with a trophy cup full of a colored liquid, which they proceed to share by passing it around the table while singing traditional tunes or offering toasts. The person left drinking the last drops must twirl the overturned cup on his or her head, then place it upside down on the table. If any drops are visible, the unlucky contestant must buy the next round.
While the “velvet” cup, a foam-topped mixture of champagne and stout reviled by many, is the oldest cup at Mory’s, the green cup is the most storied. Among alumni from before about 1970, it is the most frequently chosen cup, and its exact contents are known only to manager Carl Bauer and the two managers who preceded him. (One former manager is said to have had a contract that would require him to forfeit his pension if he revealed the recipe.) Younger alumni tend to favor the red cup, which gets its color from grenadine. The gold cup contains champagne and orange juice, the blue cup curacao, and the new purple cup—the favorite of the current Whiffenpoofs—features chambord.
Patrons who choose not to sample spirits can still indulge in the timeless ritual (and feel better about it in the morning): Bauer recently introduced the Imperial cup, a mix of fruit juice and soda—but no alcohol.
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