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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While a cache of Mory’s lore and publications are found in the library, most of the history of the place, and of Yale, is found hanging on the walls or dangling from the ceiling—victorious crew teams’ racing shells, inscribed oars, signed pictures. There is not a square inch of wall or ceiling space that is not covered with something interesting and old. It’s the sort of real nostalgia that theme restaurants can only dream of replicating. Indeed, Getman recalled the time Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, visited Mory’s and proclaimed, “We’d like to put one of these on every college campus!”
While Getman mourns the possible loss of the club, he also pines for the departed staff, some of whom, like waiter Billy Farrington, had been with Mory’s for 40 years.
“Billy is a great guy. I made him a life member of Mory’s and he burst into tears,” says Getman, who also bestowed life membership on Anton Pipenbacher, the chef at Mory’s for the past 20 years.
The staff had its share of colorful characters and eccentrics, which only added to the club’s idiosyncratic appeal. Getman tells of a waiter named Carl who was legendary for his surliness, greeting customers with “Whadya want?” and long-haired Yale undergraduates of the 1960s with “No girls allowed” (Indeed, until 1972, Mory’s was a men’s-only club).
William C. DeVane, the venerable dean of Yale College from 1939 to 1963, was seated with a group at a booth when Carl approached, threw the menus down and just stood there glaring. The dean said, “We’re looking, Carl, just give us a minute.”
DeVane looked over and noticed that Carl was scratching his back side.
“Do you have hemorrhoids, Carl?” the dean asked.
“If it ain’t on the menu,” Carl snapped, “we ain’t got it!”
“The tradition here is sustainable,” insists Getman, even while admitting that the quality of the food was never great, even at its prime. This was corroborated by Christopher Buckley, a Mory’s member who was quoted in the New York Post last December as saying, “[Mory’s fare] was inedible—it’s hard to screw up melted cheese.” Buckley’s sensitive palate notwithstanding, Getman says that most of the traditional items would be kept for the “new” Mory’s he envisions: rarebits, Baker’s soup (a tomato curry whose recipe is top secret) and Yorkshire pudding among them. Getman also realizes that if the club is to reopen, it must vary the food offerings. Indeed, one of the first orders of business is to hire a new chef and to put in a bar to make Mory’s more of a pub after 9 p.m. to midnight. The tradition of the cups will also be retained.
One of the main problems may be the Yale connection itself. In a sense, Mory’s is both blessed and cursed by its direct association with Yale. Though this means that the membership rolls can swell with each incoming class, it also means that this is the only potential audience. And, if that audience isn’t interested in patronizing the place, then there’s no one else to turn to. The dues was a sticking point with some Yale undergraduates, even though at present it is a nominal $25 for one’s entire college career.
“The dues is what gives the impression that the place is an elitist enclave,” says Getman. “It’s anything but that. We also want to make it more accessible to graduate students because they can legally drink.”
As of 2008, Mory’s had only 500 undergraduate members and 300 graduate student members. It would be one thing to actively oppose Mory’s as an “elitist” tradition, but it’s another thing to have simply not heard of the place.
“Most Yale students don’t have a clue about Mory’s,” Getman says.
Its low profile is exacerbated by the fact that the restaurant is not on the “flex card” system that other New Haven restaurants enjoy with the university. As part of this system, Yale students can eat, at reduced rates, at many New Haven establishments by using their student identification cards.
New Haven is home to three other private clubs that are not unlike Mory’s. The major difference is that these three—The Quinnipiack Club, The Graduate Club and the New Haven Lawn Club—are not strictly eating establishments. They each offer their members limited accommodations, banquet and meeting facilities, along with some sports and recreational facilities.