Why are Mugs on the Ceiling of the Ugly Mug in Cape May?
Cape May is one of the most historic towns in the United States and the main Cape Island has seen a lot of people coming through as visitors and vacationers for the last 300 years.
One establishment that predates both the modern incarnation of the Washington Street Mall and the Garden State Parkway is The Ugly Mug.
The story of The Ugly Mug is intertwined with the history of Cape May going back to the city's roots with the construction of Cape May Harbor in the 1800s to open the waterways for commercial fishermen and tourists to both dock in Cape May.
Without Schellenger’s Landing and the infrastructure upgrades in Cape May, many tourists in the 1800s had no straightforward way to reach Cape Island until the railroads of the mid-1800s and the major bridges familiar to travelers today were built in the mid-1900s.
As a result, the growth of Cape May City was directly linked to the first visitors and fishermen arriving by boats.
"Why Are those Mugs hanging from the Ceiling of the Ugly Mug in Cape May?"
The answer has to do with the Fishermen who frequented Cape May. "The Ugly Mug Club" was started in the 1940s when Fishermen who visited Cape May Harbor each had their own Mugs they drink from. When the members of "The Ugly Mug Club" were on their boat for weeks or sometimes months, their personal mugs would hang from the ceiling facing the ocean to tell their drinking buddies that they were back on the boat and not around to have a drink.
In a world that predates pagers of the 1990s and cell phones of the early 21st Century and the modern age of social media "check-ins," this was a cool way to communicate with people back in the 1900s. Each of the mugs hanging from the ceiling at The Ugly Mug are marked with the Name and Date of the club member.
Because of the Ugly Mug Club, the establishment as we know it today as The Ugly Mug in Cape May was born in the aftermath of World War Two. When the Washington Street Mall was originally opened in 1971, the Ugly Mug Restaurant and Bar was one of the original establishments on the walk located at the corner of Decatur Street and Washington Street.
As part of being one of the attractions on the Washington Street Mall, the Ugly Mug was no longer just a spot for locals and fishermen. There were now new visitors coming to Cape May thanks to the newer causeways and bridges built in the mid-1900s directing traffic onto the Cape Island. In the decades after the Ugly Mug Club was established, the membership mugs hanging from the ceiling have a different meaning today. The mugs that face the Atlantic Ocean now are in honor of the Ugly Club Mug members who are deceased. The only way you can become a new member of the Ugly Mug Club is if you compete in the United States National Froth Blowing Championships.
Usually scheduled for the first Sunday after Labor Day and a staple of what is known in South Jersey as "Local's Summer," the Froth Blowing Contest is a competition to see who can blow the most froth out of their beer glass. The winner of the content earns membership into the “Loyal Order of the Ugly Mugs”. This Froth-Blowing Contest has been hosted at the Ugly Mug since 1954, adding another layer of Cape May history to this establishment.
Today, the Ugly Mug is one of the hot spots for different visitors to Cape May. In the Summer months, the Washington Street Mall is busy and many people hit up the Ugly Mug for lunch and dinner. Year-round, the Ugly Mug is a part of Cape May nightlife with live music plus late hours offered by their kitchen and bar. Whatever your reason for being in Cape May, remember to check out all the town's history, including the mugs hanging from the ceiling on Washington Street at The Ugly Mug.