morys

Last week I spoke at “the dear old Temple Bar we love so well.”

Mory’s, founded in 1863, moved from “the place where Louis dwelled” of “Whiffenpoof Song” fame to its currently shabby chic colonial quarters on York Street in 1912. Originally a private club, townies were never allowed on the premises unless they were employees. One of them, Carl, was a famously surly waiter for whom my dad provided gratis wardrobes to steer his Mory’s clientele to J. Press.

Here’s a fable from the heyday: Bill DeVane, venerable dean at Yale, was at a booth when Carl approached the table, threw a menu down and stood glaring. DeVane noticed Carl was scratching his behind. “Do you have hemorrhoids, Carl?” the dean asked. “If it ain’t on the menu,” Carl snapped, “we ain’t got it.”

Growing up in a college town is priceless, whether it’s Berkeley, Charlottesville, South Bend or Princeton. You can never say, “Goodbye Columbus.”

In the 1940s, New Haven classmates at my public elementary school came from surrounding Irish, Italian and Jewish neighborhoods. I never had a WASP peer until my parents sent me to private school. I sold football programs with  some of my sixth grade pals at the Yale Bowl. We were always regulars at all the Eli athletic events. Our heroes included Levi Jackson, former star at Hillhouse High School before entering Yale. His father was a dining-room steward at the college, and Jackson became the first black football captain in the Ivy League. We also worshipped balletic hook-shots of all-American basketball star Tony Lavelli, a scholarship kid from Somerville, Massachusetts, who made pocket change playing accordion at the Loew’s Poli movie palace before each feature.

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All the memories flooded back at my night at Mory’s. The place reeked of tradition adjusted for the 21st century. Now the booming camaraderie of undergraduates is no longer burdened by the gender, ethnic and clothing restrictions of a bygone era. Mory’s is now a semi-private club welcomes the public with only the slightest Yale credential. The Whiffenpoofs and other men’s and women’s a cappella groups sing regularly at dinner midweek. The New Blue vamped us to a generational mix of Amy Winehouse paired with Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady Is A Tramp.” Anything goes.

The magic of their singing still casts a spell on York Street. New times doing an old time gig. — RICHARD PRESS

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