There's a certain thrill in being in a place that's off limits to the masses. Just recently I had the opportunity to tread on the hallowed grounds of such an eminent private space.
It didn't require a secret handshake or access code to enter.
I didn't have to wear a silly, tasseled hat or cryptic insignia ring. It seemed as exclusive as the White House War Room.
And it was steeped in traditions that seem to me a throwback to the days of slavery and bondage. By now, you must suspect that it's either Fort Knox or the Lincoln Bedroom. If so, you're not even close.
It was the historic Mory's tavern near the Yale campus in New Haven that's been an institution of exclusivity since the days of powdered wigs.
And its provenance includes the renowned a capella choir, the Whiffenpoof's, that's been haunting its sacred halls for decades, with its soothing refrain that's imitated in pastures across the country -- "Baa, Baa, Baa."
With a sense of awe, I entered Mory's with my friend Eileen, a Yale graduate, who invited me to an alumni club luncheon.
Coming from a college that's more cow-town than Ivy League, I was intrigued by the idea of hobnobbing with the literati and glitterati of Yale, and was mesmerized by the quaint, colonial interior of this well-restored white clapboard house.
I fancied General Grant pulling up in his horse-drawn landau, shouting that the rebels were on their way, and not to start without them.
I drank in the atmospheric low ceilings and dark, polished woods, and the famous initial-carved tables that have served for almost two centuries as canvas for amateur woodcarvers. If I had a knife, I was told I could leave my mark.
That day, some 35 of us, Yale graduates and spouses, their offspring, even a newborn, and a few widows and guests, gathered for the event, each of whom stood and introduced themselves with the relaxed ease of the well-educated and privileged.
Seated among them, I leaned over and said hello to my neighbor, a conservatively dressed Yale man.
When his turn came, he said, "Will Spenceworthy III, class of '54," who later regaled me with tales that were movie-worthy or at least reminiscent of a more civilized era when the educated rich and scholarly famous didn't show up on reality TV.
"I keep my yacht in the South of France," he said. Coming from him, it was not a boast but merely a matter of fact.
"We have a villa there in Cap d'Antibes which is one moveable feast each year during The Season." Even I knew what that meant.
"Princess Grace stopped by for dinner one night, and in return we were invited to The Palace on two different occasions."
As a conversationalist, I couldn't top that, and it wouldn't have mattered because Spenceworthy was more interested in his beet appetizer.
Saved by the tinkle of a knife against cut-glass, the festivities were about to begin.
We were going to do "The Cups." As far as I could see, lots of these Yalies were already in their cups, so to speak.
This pre-Civil War tradition at Mory's is a must-do when you come here.
A sprightly woman explained the rules, which seemed as convoluted as the Articles of Confederation.
A gigantic silver trophy cup, which held an alcoholic concoction (secret formula, of course) would be passed round for each of us to sip.
Since it was still flu season, the germ issue immediately came to mind, and I wasn't sure that I would put my lips to the cup, no matter how sacred or ritualistic.
As the game was played, the person who got the final sip became the "goat." He had to either lick the cup clean or mop it dry with his locks. How unhygienic, I thought.
Some rituals like this one seemed best left buried. When my turn came, I braved infection and took a sip, and frankly it tasted like lime Jello.
After my heroics, I proudly passed the cup on ... as we do with cherished traditions.
When we left Mory's, I realized that I had entered an alien culture and left with a feeling of nostalgia for a tradition that surely would never be mine.
Barbara L. Smith is a published playwright and literary consultant. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.