This article was originally published in the December 2017 Princeton Echo.
Princeton’s eating clubs, like fraternities at other schools, have a social pecking order and at any given time a distinct personality. In This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Class of 1917, offered the following description of some of the clubs in his day:
“Ivy, detached and breathlessly aristocratic; Cottage, an impressive melange of brilliant adventurers and well-dressed philanderers; Tiger Inn, broad-shouldered and athletic, vitalized by an honest elaboration of prep-school standards; Cap and Gown, anti-alcoholic, faintly religious, and politically powerful; flamboyant Colonial; literary Quadrangle; and the dozen others varying in age and position.”
The Echo asked Ryan Ozminkowski, current Princeton undergraduate, to offer an impressionistic view of the clubs and their membership. His thoughts are below.
Terrace F Club
Oh Terrace, if you’re here before 2 a.m. you’re either eating dinner or doing something wrong. The club is so alternative that it exists as the only club not technically on “The Street,” but is instead on Washington Road, just a few feet away. Whether there for breakfast or a night out, you’ll always see a slight green haze looming over it. Though joining the club isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (even though they do maintain an amazing tea selection), everyone loves stopping by at the end of a good night out. (Editor’s note: In Clifford Zink’s book, The Princeton Eating Clubs, it’s known as Terrace Club. Undergraduates inject the “F,” which could stand for “Food” — or some other F-word.)
Some people think it’s the political club; some people think it’s the theater club. Either way, you’ll find a lot of people with impassioned opinions being quite loud about them. Tower remains a bicker club, but when an upperclassman is reminded of that fact, the response is usually, “oh right, I forgot!” A big pro to the club is that it can’t be further than 50 feet from campus proper, so there is never a fear of frostbite on your way to meals as there is with clubs like Charter and Cloister. The food isn’t so bad either.
Cannon Dial Elm
Fair warning, the author of this piece is a PROUD member of CDE. With about 80 percent of the club’s membership consisting of varsity athletes, the club’s mascot is jokingly Protein. But it’s not that big of a joke. With CDE unequivocally having the best food on the street, members can grab a la carte steak and salmon at any meal of the day. The food is so good that members constantly have to remind themselves that they won’t be eating this good for many years after they graduate. The club’s vibe is relaxed and laid back, which you would be too if you just got out of a three-hour practice.
Quad is an odd egg to crack. It sits at the butt of most Eating Club jokes, though the few times anyone visits the club, they always seem to have a great time. This may be due to their remarkable cocktails that are always available, rumored to be subsidized by proud alumnus and founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, Class of 1986. One night I experienced sums Quad up well. It started off when one of their top officers, the “grand Moosehead,” welcomed me at the door before leading me over to a table of boozy milkshakes and White Castle cheeseburgers. Afterwards I was invited to dance to swing tunes coming out of a jukebox. Fun . . . but not your normal night out.
University Cottage Club
Cottage club is the classic club. The house itself is beautiful, arguably serving as inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s house in The Great Gatsby. A compelling argument when you consider that the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was in fact a member of the club during his undergraduate days, 1913 to 1915 (he never graduated). The stereotype of students would be rich and southern, a stereotype that hasn’t changed much since its founding in 1886. Though not the most popular place on nights out during the school year, the time to party at Cottage is in the spring when they host weekly “Sunday Fundays,” daytime bacchanals with themes ranging from “Luau” to “70s Ski Lodge.”
The Ivy League of the eating clubs. Being one of the most exclusive social groups in the world, getting in connects you with some of the most powerful people in the world. In typical social stratifying situations, many people crave getting to head there on nights out, but once there not much happens in the way of dancing or drinking as one would find at a Tiger Inn or Cannon. Instead, people just talk. Upperclassmen are talking with their best friends, and underclassmen trying to win the favor of upperclassmen, hoping they will one day be admitted into the club.
Cap and Gown
Cap, as it stands today, is one of the most popular clubs on the street. But not in the sense of elitism or social clubs, but more for its support of diversity and inclusion. With affinity groups ranging from “Black and Gown” to “Cap and Brown,” the club puts its best foot forward with trying to make everyone feel at home. With that said, there are still residual elements from its days as the party hub of campus including some great themed parties such as “Boxers and Blazers” and “Cap-mandu,” with the second being named after a former gentleman’s club in New Jersey.
Or “Moist Cloist” as I like to call it. Cloister is home to the Floaters and Boaters around campus i.e. swimmers and rowers. It’s a much smaller club with membership just below 100, compared to the 150-200 that most other clubs maintain. With such an athletic student body, it owns one of the best backyards equipped with a basketball court, volleyball court, and hot tub. If you can find your way over to dinner there, prepare yourself for some very tasty craft beers of which they never seem to be in short supply.
Charter is about a million miles away from campus, so the only students who make sense joining it are the engineers as their building is right next door. However, there is one night a week where just about anyone will make the walk down Prospect Ave, and that is on Charter Fridays. The place to find your friends and that cute girl from your introductory Spanish class, it hosts the best games of ring of fire and pong you’ll find anywhere all week.
The Glorious Tiger Inn. A thing of legend. It is the living embodiment of Animal House on Princeton’s campus. Legend has it, in the early ’90s it sold off its entire backyard to defend itself in the Supreme Court. The case? It didn’t want to allow women among its ranks. One year they ate nothing but hot dogs for the entire second semester because they spent all of their money on beer. But when you can’t walk through the front door without getting a pint poured on you, what else can you expect?
This club is the most exciting club on the street … for two nights of the year during frosh week. Other than that, it’s a pretty mellow place save for the nights that it puts a delicious cider on tap in the downstairs taproom. With the giant marble pillars, gorgeous flower arrangements, and century old-trees framing the building, it might just be the most beautiful club. Home to a diverse crew of students ranging from Ultimate Frisbee players to geoscientists, it’s a hard club to generalize.
Editor’s note: Ryan Ozminkowski, a junior from Lodi, California, majoring in philosophy, is the creator and executive producer of Princeton Tonight, a campus-based television talk show. A member of Cannon, he also competes in the decathlon for the varsity track team.
The Echo rankings:
1. Ivy *
2. Cottage *
3. (Tie) Tiger Inn * & Cannon *
6. Cap and Gown *
7. (Tie) Cloister & Charter
9. Tower *
The * denotes a selective club.
The Echo rankings are based on input from a handful of alumni and undergraduates, and are superficial, arbitrary, and sometimes influenced by alcohol — in other words, not unlike the Bicker process by which many club members have been chosen over the years.