The group rallying around Mory’s wants to keep its unique character while catering to the needs of today’s Yale students, faculty and staff—and even the New Haven community as a whole.
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Update: As of Aug. 21, 2010, they were singing again at Mory's. After a long struggle, detailed below, the club reopened for business and was making ready for the 2010-11 school year.
“To the tables down at Mory’s
To the place where Louis dwells,
To the dear old Temple Bar we love so well . . .”
—The Whiffenpoof SongMake that “loved” so well. Past tense.
Mory’s, the private dining and drinking establishment (aka “Temple Bar”) that is as quintessential a Yale University tradition as the men’s clothier J Press, the bulldog mascot Handsome Dan and the Whiffenpoofs, has been shuttered and on life support since last December. That’s when the next of kin—a 16-member board of governors, the club’s estimated 15,000 worldwide members, Yale administration officials—began to gather around the hospital bed and debate whether or not to pull the plug.
Established in 1849, Mory’s has not been packing the house in recent years. Alumni support has not been strong. There has also been the sense, at least to an increasingly diverse Yale undergraduate student body, that the club was elitist and its time has passed. Adding injury to insult, the peconomic downturn has taken a hefty bite out of the club’s endowment.
For the moment, however, Mory’s, located in a white Federal-style house at 306 York Street, continues to breathe. The utilities are hooked and paid up, the dinnerware is neatly stacked, and the chairs sit atop the carved wooden tables where they were placed on the last night of business, Dec. 18, 2008. The rooms are swept of debris, and the famous multicolored drinking cups are snugly stored in their special vault, awaiting another session of ritualistic imbibing for which Mory’s has become legendary. The hope is that a round of fundraising among Yale alums and other interested parties will raise enough money to re-open the club sometime this fall.
As long as there is a breath in Mory’s body, there is hope for its revival. This, at least, is the sense one gets from talking with Christopher Getman ’64, president of Mory’s board of governors. A 16-year member of the Mory’s board, Getman took over leadership of the venerable club on Dec. 18, filling the shoes of his predecessor, the perfectly named Cheever Tyler ’59. Getman’s first post-Tyler act was to inform the staff that Mory’s was closing and there was a good chance it might not reopen. Ever.
“It was a terribly difficult thing to have to do,” he says, sighing heavily.
Getman bleeds Yale blue. The former Yale baseball star is not only in charge of keeping hope alive for Mory’s, he has also been the caretaker of Handsome Dan, Yale’s bulldog mascot, for most of the past two decades. He gets worked up when he ponders a Yale without Mory’s.
“There’s so much tradition here,” he says, sighing again.
Though “used to be” is a mantra when speaking of Mory’s in 2009, the club is not just some quaint relic from the days of raccoon coats, hubba hubba and “Oh You Kid.” The 160-year-old establishment—membership is offered to students, graduates and faculty of Yale—is the unofficial Monday night stage for the Whiffenpoofs, the 14-member male glee club celebrating its centennial this year. Former members of Mory’s include Gerald Ford, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, William F. Buckley Jr., Paul Mellon, George Pataki and Joe Lieberman—photographs of whom line the walls of the two floors. One former member, Rudy Vallee (Class of ’27), made room for Mory’s in popular culture with his hit recording of “The Whiffenpoof Song.”
The Whiffenpoofs have their own ceremonial table in the main dining room. On its surface are branded several of Mory’s official seals, inside of which are carved the initials of the 14 Whiffenpoofs for that year. Once a tabletop has been sufficiently covered with carvings and graffiti, it is removed from the table legs and mounted on the wall, like altarpieces to a cathedral perpetually in progress. The Whiffenpoofs’ carvings and mountings stop at 2007.