WHAT IS AN EATING CLUB?
Princeton Eating Clubs are part of a tradition that dates back to 1879. In the early years, the University did not provide students with dining facilities, so students created their own clubs to provide comfortable houses for dining and social life. Eating clubs are unique to Princeton and the most popular dining and social option for students in their junior and senior years.
There are currently 11 eating clubs, each with a distinctive character. Most of them are located on Prospect Avenue. The clubs are architecturally impressive and unique. Many have undergone recent renovations to provide better facilities for dining, studying, relaxing, and social life. There has been a growing emphasis on educational programs (such as guest lectures), community service, and sustainability as well. All the clubs offer robust wireless Internet connections to the University's network.
The eating clubs are independent, private institutions that do not have any formal ties to the University. They are managed by graduate boards, undergraduate officers, and professional club managers. The clubs work together at both the graduate and undergraduate level to support each other, and they also cooperate with the University on issues such as student safety, diversity and inclusion, and cost containment.
During the 1970s some of the clubs changed from a selective admission process (called "bicker") to an open (or non-selective) admission process. There are currently six selective clubs (Cannon, Cap and Gown, Cottage, Ivy, Tiger Inn, and Tower) and five open clubs (Charter, Cloister Inn, Colonial, Quadrangle, and Terrace).
Students are eligible to join a club in the spring of sophomore year, and that is when most students join. All of the clubs, both selective and open, organize events for sophomores to visit the clubs to learn more and meet members. Students join as social members for the balance of their sophomore year with limited meals, full membership begins in the fall of junior year. Some of the clubs continue to take new members who are juniors and seniors as well. Currently, 68% of upperclass students (juniors and seniors) are members of a club.
The clubs each have approximately 150 - 200 undergraduate members and maintain strong ties with their alumni members. Alumni frequently return to campus during the fall for a game, or in the spring for reunions, and will often use their club as a home to have a meal, catch up with friends, and have the opportunity to meet current undergraduate members.
Membership in your eating club lasts for life, and many Princeton students say their closest friendships, during and after college, were formed with their clubmates.
Cloister Inn, Princeton's 16th eating club, was founded in 1912. It initially occupied Cottage Club's second building and remained there throughout the first World War, until it was sold to the now-defunct Court Club in 1920. Utilizing the funds from this sale, the current Cloister property was purchased, which now sits at 65 Prospect Avenue
Cloister had begun contemplating a new home as early as 1920 and rejected two designs. The first, by Robert Henry Scannell (Class of 1915), suggested a "cloister" in its plan for the entrance- a triple arch- but was otherwise indistinguishable. The second design was far more ambitious. The designer Albert Relsen of Philadelphia imagined a medieval cloister to the rear of the building, resembling a smaller scale version of Holder Hall on campus, however financial reasons prevented construction. Eventually, Scannell submitted a second design in 1923, which was adopted and the building was completed by the spring of 1924. Executed in the local stone (Lockatong argillite, or "Princeton stone"), which is used in many of the University's dormitories, Scannell's design reflected the University's preference for a generic "Collegiate Gothic" style. This style incorporated medieval English precedents. The dominant element in Scannell's design for Cloister is the row of pointed arches that face Prospect Avenue, which also continue past the enclosed portion of the building to frame a concealed patio. The carved, arched doorway also contributes to the medieval construction, along with prominent stone chimneys to complete the effect.
Out of all the Princetonians competing in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, more came from Cloister than any other club. (Chris Ahrens '98 also happened to win a gold medal.)
Cloister is the only club on the street to offer its members a hot tub.
Cloister is also the only club on the street (to our knowledge) that can claim to have a Hoagie Haven sandwich named after a member. (That's the Bloch, a chicken parmesan with bacon and eggs, named after Sam Loch '06.)
Famous Cloister Alums include politician Eliot Spitzer '81 and author Jodi Piccault '87.
Cloister features prominently (and doesn't burn down in) in Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason's recent novel The Rule of Four - several of the fictional protagonists are members. Caldwell was a 1998 graduate of Princeton and member of Cloister.
Cloister's public elevation squarely places it in the tradition of the later clubs, which took their inspiration from the University itself rather than the earlier clubs. In this, Cloister is most closely related to Dial Lodge (1917) and Key & Seal (1925), both of which are now out of operation. In 1972, Cloister closed temporarily and became an alternate dining facility for underclass students as well as an alumni center. This was short-lived, however, because in 1977 a student initiative reopened the building as an eating club, and it has been in operation ever since.
Cloister experienced major changes in the 1980s with the addition of a game room and outdoor deck on the main floor, and expanded space in the lower-level dining room.