Clinking silverware, hearty laughter and well-suited young men spinning upside-down chalices on their heads have been staples of a typical Saturday night at Mory’s for decades.
It was by happenstance that Mory’s even became an Eli-only tradition. More than 140 years ago, a group of Yale crew members casually stopped by Frank and Jane Moriarty’s taproom — Mory’s first location on Wooster Street — after a day on the water. Founded in 1849, Mory’s has endured multiple location and owner changes before coming to its final perch on York Street, solidifying its place as a Yale institution right in the heart of campus.
Tradition saturates the inner dining rooms of Mory’s: photos of former Yale athletes and bulldog memorabilia lining the walls. “Cups,” large silver-plated chalices, are passed around the tables to the same tune that Yalies have sung for years, and a cappella groups gather in the club weekly to sing to dining patrons. Lyrics of the Whiffenpoofs — an elite all-male a cappella group — can be heard on York Street most Monday nights, as the birth of the century-old singing group is steeped in Mory’s tradition: “To the tables down at Mory’s,/To the place where Louis dwells,/To the dear old Temple Bar we love so well …”
While the Whiffenpoof song may always be a part of Mory’s, this fall, the club is instituting some changes that may come as a surprise to some of its loyal patrons. Over the summer, James Shumway, general manager of Mory’s, met with the restaurant’s managing Board of Governors to discuss what he felt were changes necessary and vital to maintaining Mory’s “hustle and bustle.” Business has been suffering, and undergraduate membership is currently around 700, which is a relatively low number for the club, Shumway said. Last year’s closing of Yankee Doodle, a well-known diner around the corner from Mory’s, prompted a swift decision to reconnect with the student body, he said.
“During Mory’s heyday, this used to be the place to be for students,” Shumway said. “Unfortunately, it isn’t that way right now, and we are hoping to change that.”
Thursday night, Mory’s began implementing their changes, starting with later hours. Mory’s will now keep its doors open until midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, allowing age-appropriate students to enjoy a full bar.
“You can even have cups that late if you can handle it,” Shumway said.
Beginning tonight, Shumway said Mory’s will also offer a “pub-style” menu with food like wings, calamari and burgers for students to enjoy later in the evening. Rounding out the agenda for change, within the next week, Mory’s will offer members a chance to enjoy wi-fi in the upstairs dining rooms during lunch hours, if the rooms are not reserved for other functions. Mory’s will now also remain open from lunch until closing time instead of closing to prepare for the dinner hours. The famous Mory’s dress code will be relaxed, and a snack menu including alcoholic beverages will be available for members using the upstairs area during afternoon hours.
Students interviewed said extended hours are the most appealing change.
“When I’ve gone with the sailing team, we have always had to be out by 10 p.m., which is kind of a downer,” Nick Bird ’10 said. “With later hours, I feel like we would still go just as frequently, but we would enjoy it a lot more.”
Conversely, Bird said the addition of afternoon hours and wireless access will do little to nothing to increase student traffic at Mory’s, despite the loosening of the coat-and-tie dress code. Most students agree that there are plenty of better places to study. “I think that students will continue to go to all the places that offer the same perks and are comfortable, like Publick Cup or [Au Bon Pain],” Liza Angila ’10 said.
While Mory’s is making some effort to modernize, Angila, who is not currently a member, said she feels it will take a long time for the distinguished club to change its reputation. Regardless of the changes, she said, “It’s overpriced.”
Some things never change — the club has long been associated with the Yale elite. Faelton Perkins ’43 said although he is not a member, he has eaten at Mory’s with friends, and wanted to join as an undergraduate.
“Four of us planned to pool money and buy a membership for one of us,” Perkins said. “One finally became a member soon after graduation, and stayed a member until he died 10 years ago.”
To attract current students, student membership — normally a one-time charge of $40 — will be offered for the discount price of $25 through Sept. 25. August and September are also “open house” months during which students can try out what Mory’s has to offer without a membership. Still, Shumway said, some things are non-negotiable. It will remain a private club, and the membership fee will not be lowered. Alumni, like students, said they were largely more concerned with keeping the spirit of Mory’s alive than with perfectly preserving its traditions. Robert Wilkins ’03, a lifetime member, said he is not worried that the tradition at Mory’s will ever dissipate. It seems more important, he said, that the club begins modernizing in order to keep its alumni base solid in the years to come.
“Most of Mory’s revenue does not come from its student members,” Wilkins said. “But at the same time, establishing a future alumni clientele is very important.”
Mory’s is a long-standing tradition within Wilkins’ family — his father Robert Wilkins Sr. ’65 and his late grandfather C. Howard Wilkins ’32 were also members, as was his cousin Tyler Wilkins ’98. Having enjoyed many nights at Mory’s as a young child, Wilkins said he feels strongly that the club should continue to stress the value of family tradition.
For many, Mory’s has served as the setting for cultivating fond memories with close friends.
Clarence King Jr. ’52 recalled being one of eight members of the “Monday Evening Club,” which met at Mory’s once a week for dinner and drinks. King said he remembers sitting around the corner from the Whiffenpoofs and playfully heckling the singers.
“We even had our own necktie,” he said. “The green cup was the official drink of the Monday Evening Club.”
King said he hopes the club’s management will “keep Mory’s going” for future generations of Yalies.
“It is a shame in one way,” he said, referring to the update, “But times have changed.”
Current Whiffenpoof Trevor Kempner ’10 thinks these updates will not alter that relationship.
“Mory’s is a Yale institution,” he said. “A lot of people come to Yale because it has such a strong sense of tradition, and I don’t think that modernization has really hurt any of the Yale traditions.”
Kempner has a long family history at Mory’s as well. As a new member of the group, he said he is proud that his father, who took him to Mory’s as a boy, will see him perform at the club on Monday nights.
Kempner also said he hopes Mory’s new will also attract more students. “I want to see as many students as possible,” he said. “While Mory’s has not really tailored to the casual student in the past, I think these changes could really change that.”
Shumway said although tradition is of utmost importance to Mory’s, the club wants to present a new image to its clientele.
“Around Mory’s, we live by the saying ‘keep Mory’s Mory’s,’” Shumway said. “But more importantly, we’ve realized that we just need to keep Mory’s.”