Mory’s, a restaurant on York Street steeped in Yale history, claims to be the largest private club in the world, but it is seeking more members.
Forced to close for financial reasons in 2008, the club solicited money from members to fund a largescale renovation, reopening this fall with a new bar, updated menu and looser membership requirements. Under the new policy, the club is open not only to Yale students and faculty, but also to staff and to members of the New Haven community who are not directly affiliated with the University. Mory’s Council President Christopher Getman ’64 said the institution is doing well a semester after its reopoening in August, and attributed that to its focus on bringing in a more diverse crowd.
Economic problems aside, Getman said the restaurant’s management truly believes that Mory’s should be open to the entire Yale community, and that every student and alumnus of the University shares a connection to the club and the history it represents.
“This is not an accommodation to anybody,” he said of the broader membership criteria. “We are deadly serious about wanting to be an inclusive place. We just want to get them in here — [then] the place kind of grabs you.”
According to eight students interviewed in November, Mory’s is succeeding in opening its arms: none of them thought the club was exclusive and all of them knew they were qualified for membership, or were members already. Three had not been and three said they only went for special occasions such as birthdays.
“I wouldn’t go to Mory’s for the food first. I’d go for the ambience, for the history, for the fun setting,” Taylor Vaughn-Lasley ’12, a staff reporter for the News, said. “I definitely think it has maintained it’s old Yale feel but not in a V.I.P. way.”
For a student, membership at Mory’s until graduation costs $15, including a $10 food credit. The price used to be $40. Getman said he expected half the student body to take advantage of the low price, but realized the restaurant needed to recruit more actively when this did not occur. The club brought two Yale undergraduate students onto its board to promote student membership, and filled Yale’s dining halls with cards explaining how to join and directing students to an online application form.
Nicholas Ribovich ’14 said he was handed a membership card on the street during Family Weekend, and submitted his application for membership last week.
“It seemed like everyone was doing it,” he said. “It seemed like part of the Yale tradition.”
The new bar, though, seems to be what has helped Mory’s most economically – especially for those not married to the idea of tradition. The Yale Political Union and a cappella groups, most famously the Whiffenpoofs, have historical ties with Mory’s and continue to pass around cups at the new club just as their members did 100 years ago. But a new set of student groups — The Senior Class Council, Yale Historical Review, and Kappa Alpha Theta, among others — has started to schedule parties at Mory’s as well.
As part of its outreach efforts, the restaurant has been planning events, too. It brought in students from the Yale School of Art to socialize at the bar, and international students who stayed on campus over Thanksgiving were invited to find company in the dining room.
Thus far, Getman said, recruiting results have been positive. According to statistics presented at the most recent Board meeting on Nov.17 , there are now 1,676 student members – which is 75 percent of the club’s goal.
NOT JUST FOR WASPS
When Mory’s conducted a survey two years ago, it found that the vast majority of Yale students thought they weren’t eligible to be members. Douglas Rae, board president, said the restaurant’s reputation for exclusivity is outdated and the club’s current leadership is focused on ensuring the entire Yale community is “made to feel welcome.” He himself has never voted against someone who applied to Mory’s for membership.
But Rae acknowledged that someone with a “hostile attitude toward Yale and its tradition” probably wouldn’t want to be a member of Mory’s.
Yale’s socioeconomic and ethinic diversity has grown, and the number of people who might perceive themselves as part in the Mory’s culture may have shrunk as a result.
“One of the things that we were kind of up against is clubs are exclusive, and Yale is a very inclusive place,” Getman said. The challenge, he said, is to fight this perception and get students inside to see that Mory’s is actually a place where they can feel at home.
Jennifer Dunn, who began working as a hostess when Mory’s reopened, likened the Mory’s experience to “coming home to grandma’s house.”
Riley Scripps Ford ’11 frequents Mory’s as often as four times a week and stressed his desire for everyone to partake in the Mory’s tradition. He has heard others say that opening Mory’s to a larger audience will erode the club’s unique charm, but does not believe that this is true.
Many Yale traditions began when the student body was made up of wealthy male white anglo-saxon protestants (WASPs), Ford said, but current Yalies from a variety of backgrounds should feel that they can enjoy and perpetuate them.
“[The Mory’s tradition] makes me feel like I’m part of this bigger thing at Yale that links not only vertically between generations but horizontally between various people in a generation,” he said. But, he admitted that he probably fits the stereotype represented by the photos on the wall.
A LAYER OF YALE
Mory’s future success may depend on its ability to widen its appeal, but the club’s history remains integral to its identity.
“I have friends who haven’t forgotten the ’70s when Mory’s was slow to admit women and they haven’t stepped foot in the place and they’re not going to,” Rae said.
Getman can still remember the name of a particularly surly waiter — Carl — whose grumpy manner was a defining characteristic of Mory’s fifty years ago.
“When you went [to Mory’s] in the sixties, you went there to sort of be insulted by the waiters and to have mediocre food,” he said, “but it was a club and it was a cool place.”
Myrna Baskin, who sometimes eats both lunch and dinner at Table 33 in the same day, recalled visiting Mory’s while a student at Smith College.
Baskin, 80, often dated Yale boys and came to Mory’s with them after football games.
“It was expected that they would take you some place after the game,” she said. “I always welcomed the warmth at Mory’s. I always felt it was a very friendly environment. Very fun, very friendly, very happy. It was always a privilege to go there. I still feel that way.”
Rae said Mory’s is like the ketchup or mustard on the hotdog of Yale (the new Late Night Bar menu includes four kinds of hotdog: the Durfee Dog, the Bacon Bulldog, the Salty Shaw, and the Harvard Hater).
“It makes the whole thing better,” he said. “It’s one layer of the Yale experience which shouldn’t be allowed to perish.”