William F. Buckley Wouldn’t Recognize Mory’s Anymore

With PermissionOld Blue George Bush is still up there in his Eli baseball uniform. Now he has company on the hallowed walls: members of the 2005-2006 women’s crew team.

The Welsh rarebit remains on the menu, but it, too, has modern company: sea scallops ravioli.

Welcome to the new Mory’s. The tastes and trappings of the old storied Yale eating club remain, but the modern age has swept in like a tornado.

After an 18-month hiatus, the new Mory’s officially opens Wednesday night with a $3.1 million makeover. It opens with a new mission, to bring the establishment into the wider-open, culinarily ambitious 21st century, complete with a new chef, new staff, and two new bars whose names are drawn from Mory’s history, the Temple Bar and Louie’s Lounge.

I got a preview during a “soft opening” meal. From the menu to the pictures on the walls to the restored tables rich in carvings to the more open rules for entrance, Mory’s has been transformed. It’s not your grandfather’s tame, exclusive Old Blue eating club anymore.

The other attendees at Monday night’s soft opening raved.

“The tuna was rare, and I can’t tell you how rare that is,” one diner told Christopher Getman, the president of the Mory’s Council. “Bravo to you.”

And so it went all night as diners came to Getman’s table to say how wonderful the food and the service were. They all said they loved the warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Monday was the third of the so-called “soft openings,” to help a new staff learn the ropes before tonight’s grand reopening .

Above all, there is a new inclusive public philosophy that permits virtually anyone to join, as long as there is a relationship to Yale, however tangential.

The Mory’s that once reflected the caste system in America is no longer—membership doors have swung open. According to its new membership application, a person attending a Yale sports, theatrical or musical event may join. Go to a football game and you’re in. If you patronize a Yale museum, you meet the requirement. If you are a merchant to the Yale community, (and who isn’t?) you qualify. These are the new categories. The older categories are in place, but amplified. Besides undergraduates, there is now a strong emphasis on drawing in graduate students from the professional schools like law, medicine and business. There are the traditional slots for Yale faculty, alumni, staff, fellows of colleges and all Yale parents. There is also a place for surviving spouses, a category often overlooked. 

With PermissionIn the old Mory’s the walls of various rooms, including the main dining rooms, were graced with black and white photos of Yale sports figures, virtually all of whom were male. The photograph of President George H.W. Bush, who was captain of Yale’s baseball team, was one of them. 

Now an effort has been made to better reflect today’s Yale.

“We tried to balance a lot of things,” said Terry Holcombe, a member of the Mory’s board. “You have 31 sports; so you have to represent them, but you also have to represent the various genders and there is an automatic bias toward men’s sports simply because there is a whole history of those and there are photographs going back to the 1800s. We tried to balance it all out and make it lively. “

Marcia Chambers PhotoThere are still black and white photos of men’s crew; there are also photos of the women’s crew team, and girls’ softball. And there are still oars on the ceilings representing the great Harvard-Yale crew rivalries.

Holcombe,a former Yale vice president for development and alumni affairs, turned to Angus Trumble, the curator of paintings and sculpture at the British Art Museum, who “for purely artistic reasons would say, ‘That this would look nice here; that this would look nice there.’” He asked for advice from Judith Schiff, chief research archivist at the university library, and from Regina Starolis, executive assistant to President Richard Levin.

One way to show inclusiveness is to find old photographs relating to the graduate and professional schools. “The whole idea is to reach out,” Holcombe said. 

The wall project has a way to go, Holcombe said. “We are only 50 percent done.”

Getman, the president of Mory’s Council, one of two boards now running the place, and the owner of Sherman, the current Yale bulldog, dined at Mory’s with his wife Toddie on Monday night. It was their first dinner at the new Mory’s

“Of course I am not at all biased or prejudiced. I thought it was great. This is going to be a home run. I hope the students really take to it because it is such a fun place. Good food, good service, great atmosphere,” he said. 

Nancy F. Lyon, a chief archivist at Sterling Memorial Library, agreed. She stopped by to tell Getman, “What brought us here in the past wasn’t always the food. Now it will be the food.” 

Marcia Chambers PhotoGetman noted that one new addition, the Temple bar, has a pub menu designed for students. The Temple bar is open to midnight. We caught up with Linda Lorimer, the secretary of the university, and members of her staff having a quick after-work drink at one of the tables. There are also new patios with outdoor tables. 

Ben Bloom, the owner of La Cuisine, a gourmet caterer and restaurant owner in Branford, now oversees the entire Mory’s operation. His new menu bears only a trace of the original Mory’s menu, which featured eggs on toast, sardines, Welsh rarebit and Golden Bucks. (Golden Bucks was Welsh rarebit with eggs on top.) Besides the Welsh rarebit, Bloom kept the Baker’s Soup from the old menu.

Jeannine WheelerThe rest is brand new or a new version of an old favorite. One of the big hits is “Sea Scallops Ravioli,” sheets of fresh egg pasta on a bed of sautéed spinach. 

There was delicately fried calamari, and a new Mory’s burger. In the liquid department, the offerings still include the famous Mory’s cups. 

In recent years the club had suffered from declining patronage, internal management issues, and a lack of student involvement. But alums loved to visit the place when they returned to Yale, and they helped to restore a circa 1817 building that was in desperate need of renovation.

Douglas W. Rae, president of the Mory’s Board of Governors, said that the major financial support came from 3,000 members and friends. This was testimony, he said, to the fact that “Mory’s matters to a lot of people.” 

Mory’s is also home to Yale’s various singing groups, including its most famous, the Whiffenpoofs.

The Whiffs table has been expanded to serve all 14 members.  It has been moved to the center of the main dining room. The Whiffs are expected to make their first appearance since the renovation sometime soon.

Timothy P. Nolan, the president of New England Reconstruction Services in Hamden, said the big challenge in renovating the building was to do it in five months instead of the year he thought he would have. On any given day 40 to 50 people were working at the site.

“We dug out the basement by hand,” he said. 

“And did you find anything that you didn’t expect? “Oh, yes,” he said. “A lot of the timbers needed to be replaced in the basement. So we did that. The City of New Haven has checked everything out. We are up to code. And the basement is now spotless.” 

Nolan was on hand not because his company reconstructed Mory’s but because he was going to get a chance to sing inside its main dining room. Turns out he is one of 14 members of the University Glee Club. They first rehearsed in the Temple bar .

Then they emerged into the main dining room and they stood before the Whiff’s table. It was about 9 p.m. 

Marcia Chambers PhotoIn a capella fashion they sang three songs as they made their surprise debut. The crowd was delighted. 

Nolan said one of the big challenges for Glenn Gregg, the principal architect, was to try to blend the new building with the old Mory’s. “We wanted to make sure the charm was still here.” 

That it was.

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posted by: Rita Peloquin on August 25, 2010  9:41pm

What a fantastic story!  I love acapella style singing and to know that the “Whiffs” are alive and well is great news.  Your story was right on and covered all the relevancies.  The brats in school now will hopefully keep this part of the college experience chugging for many more years to come.  Baa! Baa! Baa!

posted by: Kevin on August 26, 2010  11:24pm

One of the big hits is “Sea Scallops Ravioli,” sheets of fresh egg pasta on a bed of sautéed spinach.

posted by: asm on August 27, 2010  12:55pm

Good show.

posted by: Yaleman on August 28, 2010  4:33pm

The renewed Mory’s is great! 100 years to go before the next renewal.