Following a tradition dating back to the late 1800s, when a cappella groups that frequented the restaurant were known as “Cups Men,” Yale students are still singing for their supper at Mory’s. But in recent years, singing groups have not been the only student organizations to frequent the venerable establishment.
Currently, the majority of Yale’s a capella groups, sports teams, political parties, and multiple other student associations congregate around the old wooden tables at least once a year. The restaurant has been such a part of Yale history that the now famous Whiffenpoof song’s opening lines immortalize it: “To the tables down at Mory’s, to the place where Louis dwells, to the dear old Temple Bar we love so well.”
The Yale Whiffenpoofs was actually founded in Mory’s Temple Bar, the original site of the restaurant, at the corner of Temple and Center Street. The “Whiffs” began as a senior quartet that decided to take refuge in Mory’s in 1909 to escape the cold New Haven winter and to earn some dinner at the same time.
“We enjoyed singing too well to limit ourselves to public occasions,” wrote an original member of the group, the Rev. James M. Howard ’09, in his “Authentic Account of the Founding of the Whiffenpoofs.”
Mory’s was only too glad to have the singers.
“We began it one evening in January, 1909, and soon it became a habit to keep inviolate that weekly date: Mory’s at six,” Howard wrote.
The restaurant itself was originally founded in the late 1860s by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Moriarty, albeit in a different form than it has now. After her husband died, Mrs. Moriarty — soon known by Yale boys as “The Widow” — moved the restaurant from the Moriarty’s house to Temple Street. In 1885, a popular Irishman by the name of Edward G. Oakley took over sole ownership. Although the restaurant eventually fell into decline under his guidance, Oakley was famous for the $20 credit he automatically awarded to all new members of the club.
After Oakley’s death, Louis Linder, the Louis after whom the Yale Bulldog is named and who first encouraged the a cappella groups to sing at Mory’s, took over the restaurant and ran the soon prosperous business until his death in 1913.
The restaurant still profits from the Whiffenpoofs’ tradition of singing for its supper every Monday.
“Monday night is tough in the restaurant business — most restaurants are closed — but that is the night that the Whiffenpoofs sing and we are generally full,” Mory’s General Manager James Shumway said.
Shumway also said that the staff particularly enjoys observing the development of the singing groups.
“It is especially interesting to see the Whiffs and Whim ‘n’ Rhythm, the female senior a cappella group, come together and mature throughout the year,” he said.
Currently, Mory’s also hosts many of the other a capella groups on campus including Red Hot and Blue, the Spizzwinks(?) and the Duke’s Men of Yale.
Erich Matthes ’07, a young member of the Duke’s Men, said his first experience singing at Mory’s was matchless.
“It is very surreal, it sort of removes one from time in a way because there are the wooden walls and all of the Yale memorabilia, you feel as if you are in the middle of the history of Yale,” he said.
But the melodies of a cappella groups are not the only sound a patron might hear while dining at the establishment: the Yale Political Union and its associated parties have made Mory’s the hub of toasting sessions and debates.
“It’s a ruckus-fun time to be witty and pithy and to talk about what is important to you,” YPU president Steven Christoforou ’04 said.
Shumway said he sees most of Yale’s student organizations pass through the doors of Mory’s at least once a year.
“I think they use [the restaurant] kind of as a way to recruit,” he said.
The one Mory’s tradition every group shares is toasting sessions and the associated ritual of licking the rim three times, placing the cup upside down on one’s head, and then turning it upside down on a napkin. The custom is that if any liquid appears on the napkin, that person has to buy the next round.
This tradition is one reason the polo team continuously celebrates their annual alumni banquet at Mory’s, polo team president Sasha Novograd ’06 said.
“It seems like the only place that you can wipe cups off on your head with gentlemen who graduated from Yale in the ’50s and still feel that your Ivy League dignity remains intact,” Novograd said.
The Yale Debate Association has also made a toasting session at Mory’s an annual event.
“I think the toasting sessions are a great time — we all get to spend time together, tell great stories, and bond as a group,” YDA president Andrew Korn ’05 said.
Many said Mory’s is an integral part of the Yale community.
“I would say that attending Mory’s seems as much a part of being at Yale as spending time in Sterling [Memorial Library] — people don’t mind getting so drunk that they are willing to wipe cups off on their head either,” Novograd said.
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