History of Mory's Temple Bar
The popular and widespread singing of the Yale “Whiffenpoof Song” has made these lines familiar to thousands, but few outside the family circle know the meaning of “Mory’s” or “Louis” or the “old Temple Bar.”
The whole thing goes back to the day when a small group of students of Yale, returning to campus from crew practice on the waters of New Haven Harbor and seeking refreshments, stopped in at an obscure taproom at 103 Wooster Street, on the north side between Brewery and Franklin Streets.
They were cordially welcomed by the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Moriarty, who, according to one historian, “received them with the old-fashioned courtesy which forever afterwards possessed its charm for, and exercised its power over, the students of Yale.” The thirsty oarsmen found themselves in an unpretentious alehouse whose hospitality and dignity belied its dingy surroundings. Subsequent visits confirmed the original impressions of the place, and word of its atmosphere spread rapidly on the campus. The Moriartys soon had all the business they could comfortably handle.
Moving in the early 1860s to more commodious quarters on Court Street, the Moriartys established “The Quiet House” and continued to grow in popularity with the Yale boys. Here, says this historian, “there were none of the sad trappings and miserable pomp of the saloon.” Students sat about conversing, reading copies of Punch, and drinking brown ale from pewter mugs with glass bottoms. Frequently, as the evening wore on, talk gave way to song, and youthful harmonies filled the place.
After Frank’s death in 1876, Mrs. Moriarty—henceforth universally known as The Widow—moved once again, this time to Temple Street, nearer the Yale campus and in a swankier neighborhood. Here for nine years she presided over what became known as “Temple Bar” with a benevolence and spirit which won her the affection and respect of all. When she was not overseeing the preparation of the specialties of the house–Welsh rarebits, eggs on toast, grilled sardines, golden bucks–she sat in her rocking chair in the family sitting room in back of the bar, knitting and keeping an ear on all that was going on. As the closing hour arrived, she addressed the company with quiet authority: “Twelve o’clock, gentlemen.”
Among the waiters hired by The Widow was a genial Irishman named Edward G. Oakley, who came to run the bar after Mrs. Moriarty’s death in 1885. The ensuing 13 years of Eddie’s stewardship were happy ones for the Temple Bar, even though he proved to be an inefficient manager. His popularity with Yale clientele was legendary – and for good reason: every undergraduate listed in the college catalogue (except Freshmen) had an automatic $20 worth of credit. When a student had reached that limit, Eddie would send him a gentle reminder, and cash transactions were in order until the bill had been paid. No one ever asked to have his limit extended, and the proprietor never dunned anyone for payment. His losses over a ten-year period were less than $25. It was Eddie’s felicitious custom, when a client paid his bill, to serve a full round of drinks on the house. It used to be said that any student who announced that he was on his way to “pay Eddie’s bill” immediately found himself surrounded by an eager company of thirsty companions.
Eddie’s midnight ritual for closing the bar was more elaborate than The Widow’s: moving about “noiselessly as a shadow,” he turned the lights out one by one, adjusted the shades, locked the cupboards, and put away bottles. Finally, with exaggerated solemnity, he would announce: “Gentlemen, it is twelve o’clock.” Tradition says that this was always sufficient to empty the place in less than a minute.
After a few years, Eddie took to drinking more than was good for him, and the business began to show signs of neglect. Sloppy bookkeeping added to his troubles, and the credit privilege was reduced to $10—and then suspended altogether. The Moriarty estate still owned the establishment, and the trustee, his patience worn thin by tardy rent payments, in 1898 refused to renew Oakley’s lease. Competition had become heavy, also. A New York newspaper reported in that year that there were 66 saloons “near the Yale Campus.” Having lost his incentive as well as his business, Eddie went rapidly downhill. Until his untimely death in 1905 under the wheels of a New Haven street car, he was supported by the charity of students and other friends. Among these friends was a man named Louis Linder.
Born in Wurtenberg, Germany, in 1866, Linder had run away from an apprentice’s job and shipped to America as a cabin boy. In New York he worked in hotels, at the Casino, and ultimately at the famed German restaurant Luchow’s. Here he was discovered in 1891 by one of the owners of Heubleins’s Restaurant, who persuaded him to come to New Haven. Louis soon became a member of the Arion Singing Society and the Connecticut Rock Lodge of Masons and President of New Haven’s German-American Society. Recognizing the potential of the enterprise which had come to be known as “Mory’s,” Louis bought Eddie’s lease from the Moriarty trustee for three years at $900 per annum, putting his life savings into the venture.
Although it had been at a low ebb for some years, Mory’s now enjoyed a rapid revival of its former popularity. Louis, who loved music and knew it would bring customers into his establishment, encouraged the patronage of Yale singing groups. One of these, comprising the University Quartet with an auxiliary fifth voice, began to meet there every week to raise their glasses and sing for the sheer joy of it. In February 1909, with typical undergraduate inventiveness and imagination, they adopted the name “Whiffenpoofs” (which they borrowed from the patter of a comedian in the musical show, “Little Nemo”), drew up a constitution, and declared themselves a corporate body dedicated to eating, drinking and good fellowship–preferably musical. Their anthem, whose opening lines appear above, is still sung at Mory’s most Monday nights during term time. A self-perpetuating group, the Whiffenpoofs now number 14 each year—all Seniors, all male.
In 1912 Mory’s found itself threatened by a number of pressures. There was talk of a redevelopment project which might (and subsequently did) require the removal of the home of the Temple Bar; increasing real estate values had brought regular raises in rent; and the Moriarty estate was reluctant to give Louis a long-term lease. Already in failing health, he was prepared to go out of business. Yale alumni, deploring what appeared to be the imminent demise of a half-century tradition, were galvanized into action. Under the leadership of State Attorney Arnon A. Alling, Class of 1896, a group was formed to purchase Linder’s interest in the business and convert Mory’s into a private club. Articles of Association were drawn up, and on September 5, 1912, they were signed by 35 alumni, establishing The Mory’s Association, Inc., a corporation without capital stock. A fine old house at 306 York Street, built sometime before 1817, was bought and remodeled to accommodate the installation of many of the parts of the Temple Bar structure—windows and door casings, wainscoting, fireplace mantels, the entire front entrance, pictures, decorations, tables, and memorabilia.
Louis was engaged as steward, and Mory’s began another chapter of its history under new auspices. Two of Linder’s aides, William Krueger and Charles King, were hired to assist with the management, and another of Luchow’s men, Henry Rosenstock, was persuaded to desert New York in favor of Mory’s. Louis lived upstairs in the new house, but the state of his health precluded his doing more than giving supervisory directions from his bed. He died peacefully during the night of October 18, 1913. Krueger, appointed to succeed Louis as steward, was himself eventually followed in that office by Rosenstock, Charles King, Jerry Abbott, Haskell Blaisdell, William Daley, George Poole, Richard LaCoursiere, Carl Bauer, James Shumway, Ken Adams, and Jackie Morr.
The ground floor at Mory’s is divided into two dining rooms, a lounge, the Temple Bar, and the kitchen. The seating capacity is about 100. The upstairs, converted after Linder’s death, has five private dining rooms of varying size accommodating another 100, plus an auxiliary bar and serving area. There is also a library, where books and memorabilia about Yale and Mory’s fill the shelves. The walls throughout the building are covered with pictures (teams, captains, class groups), documents, and other mementos of Yale life. Old tabletops, almost completely covered with carved initials, have been retired from service and mounted on the walls. From the ceiling of one room hang oars once pulled by victorious crewmen.
Mrs. Moriarty’s menu, while honored for its excellence, was limited to Welsh rarebits, eggs on toast, and one or two other simple dishes. The institution’s culinary scope has broadened over the years, and today’s patron at lunch or dinner can select among a number of appetizers, a dozen main dishes, and a variety of desserts. The Moriarty’s and Eddie Oakley dispensed only ale (with an occasional hot spiced rum on a winter’s night). In true German fashion, Louis added lager. Today, Mory’s offers a wide range of beverages, from cocktails to wines to liqueurs. Favorites for generations have been special champagne-based concoctions called cups—Velvet Cup, Green Cup, Red Cup, etc. Served in a deep silver pot with a large cake of ice floating in it, cups are passed from hand to hand and mouth to mouth, frequently with musical accompaniment, until nothing remains but the ice.
The management of Mory’s is vested in a Board of Governors of not less than six (6) nor more than nine (9) (four of whom serve as officers), elected by the membership for terms of three (3) years each. In addition to superintending its operations, the Board preserves and protects those traditions which have given the place its unique flavor. Since 1927, one of these has been the custom of awarding the “Mory’s Cup” to an individual “for conspicuous service to Yale.”
For many years, until September 1972, it was possible for Yale undergraduates (after freshman year) to join Mory’s, pay a single modest fee, and become Life Members, subject to no further dues. Various other categories of membership have been established from time to time.
As a consequence of the popularity of the Club and the ease with which it could be joined, the roster by the late 1960s had totaled more than 18,000 members. Mailing a group of its size to notify members of annual meetings and the election of officers and governors had become prohibitively expensive as postal rates repeatedly increased. At the request of the Board, therefore, the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut passed a special act in 1969 amending the Articles of Association so as to make the Governors self-perpetuating and to give them full authority to manage the affairs of Mory’s without having to consult the members.
For the first time in history, Yale enrolled female undergraduates in 1969. As various parts of the University became coeducational, Mory’s amended its by-laws to restore voting rights to the members of the Association and to enroll women in 1972.
Today, Mory’s is busier and more popular than ever. In addition to the Whiffenpoofs, other men’s and women’s singing groups perform regularly at dinner during the week.
As they look down from wherever they are, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Moriarty, Eddie Oakley, and Louis Linder must be pleased to see that what they created and nurtured continues to flourish as a vibrant and venerable facet of Yale life.
Adapted from Mory’s-A Brief History
By George D. Vaill
Copyright, The Mory’s Association, Inc.
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