The (Inclusive) Tables Down At Mory’s

November 30, 2010

Yale University is unique among top colleges, and even among other Ivies, in that it boasts a private club on campus. Well, not completely unique: Dartmouth College fully owns and operates the Hanover Country Club, membership in which is open to Dartmouth students.

But Yale really has something special in Mory’s: a private club in New Haven, right on York Street, catering to (and offering) the exclusivity and pedigreed stratification of a social structure which grew out of the same university responsible for Skull & Bones.

Mory’s came into being one evening after crew practice in New Haven: a group of oarsmen from Yale’s Class of 1863 found an unpretentious ale house at 103 Wooster Street, between Franklin and Bowery, and stopped in for a drink. The rowers found themselves served and entertained by Frank Moriarty, proprietor of the tavern “whose hospitality and dignity belied its dingy surroundings.”

After temporarily closing due to financial difficulties in 2008, the newly opened Mory's is trying to be more inclusive as it seeks to expand its membership.

Word spread, and Mr. Moriarty’s pub gained in popularity at a steady clip: soon, he had all the Yale business he could handle. He died in 1876 and his wife – known locally as The Widow – moved the business to Temple Street, and into more aristocratic lodging. When The Widow died, her longtime manager Edward G. Oakley took over and immediately gave every undergraduate $20.00 worth of credit at the newly christened Temple Bar. As students neared their limit, Mr. Oakley would gently remind them of their debt and thereafter accept only cash from that customer. He never dunned any man beyond that gentle reminder and nobody ever asked to have his limit extended; in ten years, Mr. Oakley lost only $25.00 in that system.

In 1912, The Mory’s Association was formed to ensure the longevity of the bar. The Association began issuing shares of the venture to Yalies and, eventually, converted the shareholding membership into a private club. The Association bought a new house for the club and many of the old bar’s original furnishings and fittings were bustled into the new property and installed there: windows and door casings, wainscoting, the entire front entrance, tables, chairs, and fireplace mantels.

The club fell on hard times in 2008 and shut its doors temporarily; the Association raised money for a grand re-opening and renovation and, in the midst of it, secured financing by loosening membership requirements in a bid for a greater dues-paying base. And it worked: membership among undergraduates is nearly 2,000 now, 75% of the club’s goal. Christopher Getman, president of the Mory’s Council, couldn’t be more pleased. His administration’s goal of increasing inclusivity by relaxing membership requirements has seen the to club prosperous times, and Mory’s financial footing, if not its original character, is solid again.

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Watering Holes: Mory’s Temple Bar

June 28, 2010

Mory’s Temple Bar is a New Haven institution, having served thirsty Yalies since its founding in 1849. Membership in the club is generally open to anybody affiliated with Yale University (which is annually less the compliment it was the year before), and has lately been overrun, via lax membership standards, by co-ed student government types.

Despite its reputed $2 million endowment, Mory’s was forcibly shuttered during the financial upheaval of 2008. Its president has since promised to re-open in the summer of 2010, after renovations.

The Whiffenpoofs at Mory's.

Mory’s occupies 306 York Street, a white frame building which was formerly a private home, built sometime prior to 1817. The clubhouse made the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

The Whiffenpoofs, Yale’s effeminately-named a cappella troupe, regularly entertain in the club’s dining rooms. Their hoary staple, The Whiffenpoof Song, makes mention of Mory’s as “the place where Louis dwells.”

A Mory's Cup in the offing.

Since its opening, one of the constants at Mory’s (it held an all-male tack until 1972 when, three years after Yale admitted women, Mory’s did too) has been the tradition of Cups. A Cup is a ceremonial drinking event in which silver trophy urns are ordered by color (red, gold, purple, green, blue, velvet, and more) and each color corresponds to a drink, drunk from the urn. Whomever is left holding the urn at its completion, cleans it dry with only his mouth and hair while the rest sing the Mory’s Song by way of encouragement. When the Cup is dry, it’s turned upside-down and set on a napkin, then raised again and the napkin inspected for any sign of unfinished drink having dripped.

Another Mory’s tradition is that its bar rooms serve as retreat to the members of the Yale Political Union, recent notables of which have included George H.W. Bush, the late Gerald Ford, John Bolton, and the late William F. Buckley, Jr.