Why Gob’s Mess?

P/C Frank H. Foster, III – October, 2005

Commodore Steve Harris suggested that I look into the origin and meaning of “gob’s mess”. Why would a yacht club name a bar room “gob’s mess”? He said “gob” was a term for a sailor.

The sources I saw tell me that the word “gob” originates from the Irish word “gob” which means “beak” or “bill”. In British slang it came to mean “mouth”. In middle English “gobbe” meant a large morsel of food or a large mouthful. One modern meaning is a large mouthful of food. Another is a large mouthful of something that is chewed and not swallowed, such as tobacco. Now it begins to sound like there is some connection to sailors, doesn’t it.

The word “mess” means a quantity of food or a group of people who eat together, especially military or naval service people. That sounds familiar. The dictionary says that one meaning of “gob” is a sailor, usually an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy, but the origin of that meaning is unknown Large mouthfuls of food or tobacco sure sounds to me like a sailor. Anyway, the Commodore is right. But why name a bar “gob’s mess” when the food is mainly served in other rooms. Why not “Gob’s Bar” or something more imaginative.

Comm. Kyle Armstrong’s history provides the answer. The existing clubhouse was built in 1912 and 1913. In speaking of its opening, Comm. Armstrong said “Upon opening of the Club’s ninth season, in 1914, its facilities overall were vastly augmented, improved and magnetically attractive to women as well as to men. The new clubhouse was ready for limited use, its utilities finally having been put into some kind of working order. Its large veranda and “ladies’ room” scarcely could be denied the women-folk at any time–when on the island with their men-folk. Also, on such occasions, their use of the big lounge and “gobs’ mess” could not well be refused when needed.” Today that may sound a little sexist but remember, BLYC was a men’s club then. In reference to 1916 Comm. Armstrong said “Meals were served in the “Gob’s Mess” upon reservations, and a-la-carte service was available on order.” So, it’s called “Gob’s Mess” because it was the room where members and sometimes female guests ate, all fantasizing themselves as sailors of course.

Comm. Armstrong goes on to say “By the time Comm. Gettrost took the helm, the Gob’s mess had been far outgrown as the Club’s only mess room. Frequently, there had been overflows into the lounge. So, under apparently favorable conditions and with the enthusiastic leadership of the commodore, the Governors assumed responsibility for adding the present, glazed-in, dining room. Its construction proceeded during the season of ’25, evidently without the Buckeye Lake Building Company having been bothered about it.” This added dining room is, of course, the room on the West side of the clubhouse now overlooking the pool. The “lounge” is the current fireplace room.

Moving to 1947, Comm. Armstrong reports “During winter, the house committee had asphalt, tile flooring laid in the Ladies’ Room and Gobs’ Mess, moving the old bar from in front of the kitchen door and rebuilding it in its present location along the north wall.” I will have to ask Comm. Gus Schell to tell me about that. He was here then. At that time the North wall was the back of the present bar.

When I joined BLYC in 1976, the bar was in the present location but shorter than the current, extraordinarily beautiful bar that replaced it. Was that the bar from 1947? Tell me Gus! In 1976 the era of the bottle club was just ending. We had obtained a club liquor license. No longer was it necessary to bring your own bottle, mark it and store it in a locker upstairs. I suspect that was an important function of those upstairs lockers. I recall that, when we had to open some of those steel lockers because the members who had them had gone or we didn’t know who they belonged to, we found bottles in some of them. They were put to the good use for which they were intended.

So, it becomes clear. “Gob’s Mess” was the place where the sailors ate. They might have had a little to drink too. May this BLYC tradition continue ad infinitum.

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