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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Richter Elser is the general manager of the Quinnipiack Club. Not only is he a Yale graduate (Class of ’81), but he’s also a longtime member of Mory’s.
“We are all suffering under the same economic conditions, but these other clubs offer more than eating and drinking,” says Elser.
He was fond enough of Mory’s during his own undergraduate days that, upon graduation, he opened Richter’s Café, which was largely modeled on Mory’s (at least the nostalgic atmosphere) and, in fact, began to take some of the club’s business. He has also thought a great deal about what Mory’s needs to do to reopen and survive in a changing economic and cultural climate.
“Like any business, Mory’s has to identify its clientele and focus on retaining and expanding that,” says Elser, addressing the “curse” of the Yale connection. “The curse is that they never really worked to maintain ties to their audience. They simply took their constituency for granted. Over the years, they lost their relevancy to the student body. In the 1960s and 1970s, students could come in at 9 or 10 at night to get a beer and a bite to eat. And when they returned to New Haven for visits on football weekends or reunions, it was only natural that they would return to the places with so many happy memories.”
The nostalgic atmosphere at Mory’s was the attraction for most people. But in the 1980s, Elser sensed that changing. For one thing, he noted, the club management took the pictures and memorabilia down while conducting a renovation and were slow putting the stuff back up. What made Mory’s Mory’s went missing.
“Recent graduates weren’t meeting at Mory’s anymore and the club gradually cut back its hours. The customers were getting older, too,” recalls Elser. “If you are 21 years old and you want to celebrate graduation or a crew victory, you may not want to be with people your parents’ or grandparents’ age. They need to reconnect with the undergraduate community. If that means club sandwiches and burgers and half a dozen microbrews on tap, then that’s what it should be.”
Elser suggests that whichever way Mory’s goes, it will be an uphill struggle. He points to the Yale Co-Op, which tried a number of innovations to attract the Yale students back, only to fail and have to be taken over by Barnes & Noble.
Another aspect of Mory’s operation that the other private clubs in New Haven don’t share is that the work force there is unionized. The subject of employee unions is a touchy one at Yale, and nowhere is it touchier than at Mory’s.
“They could choose to stay closed long enough that the union goes away,” says Elser. “But the longer the doors are closed, the more people will simply accept the fact that Mory’s may be gone.”
At this point, Yale University is not taking a direct role in the resuscitation of Mory’s, though the club’s survival is on the minds of the administration. Regina Starolis, the executive assistant to Yale President Richard Levin, says, “He wants as much as anyone to see Mory’s open and healthy.”
For that to happen, Mory’s has to dedicate itself to recapturing the magic once described by former president Cheever Tyler: “Although it has the look of an institution of some age, it is not old in fact because students who join it or visit it often associate Mory’s with their own experience at Yale. Mory’s is for most of us a place where we can visit and reflect upon memories of youth and Yale. It is a museum of the recollections of each graduate. You don’t go there to see a thing, you go there to see yourself.”
As for the future, the overriding sentiment of the longtime members is perhaps best summed up by Edward C. Werner (Class of ’59), now a doctor in Washington, D.C., who told the Yale Alumni Magazine, “Mory’s is Yale, as much as the bulldog and Sterling Memorial Library. Should Mory’s survive? Is the sky high? Is the ocean deep? Is the pope Catholic? Of course Mory’s should survive.”
But for that to happen, some wallets are going to have to open.