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Why are the cups on the ugly cup ceiling in Cape May, NJ?

The city of Cape May is one of the most historic cities in the United States and the main Cape Island has seen many people pass by as visitors and vacationers over the past 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 Cape May’s history going back to the city’s roots with the construction of Cape May Harbor in the 1800s to open the waterways to commercial fishermen and tourists docking in Cape May. Without Schellenger’s Landing and the infrastructure improvements in Cape May, many 1800s tourists had no easy way to reach Cape Island until the mid-1800s railroads and major bridges familiar to travelers of today were built in the mid-1900s. As such, the growth of Cape May City was directly linked to the arrival of the first visitors and fishermen by boat.

“Why are these cups hanging from the ceiling of the ugly cup 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 mug to drink from. When members of “The Ugly Mug Club” were on their boat for weeks or sometimes months, their personal mugs hung from the ceiling facing the ocean to tell their drinking buddies that they were back on the boat and not there for a drink.

In a world before the pagers of the 1990s and the cell phones of the early 21st century and the modern era of social media “recordings”, this was a cool way to communicate with people in the 1900s. mugs hanging from the ceiling of The Ugly Mug bear the club member’s name and date.

Thanks to 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 II. When the Washington Street Mall opened in 1971, the Ugly Mug Restaurant and Bar was one of the first establishments on the boardwalk located at the corner of Decatur Street and Washington Street.

As one of the Washington Street Mall attractions, the Ugly Mug was no longer just a place for locals and anglers. There were now new visitors coming to Cape May thanks to new causeways and bridges built in the mid-1900s that directed traffic to Cape Island. In the decades since the Ugly Mug Club was founded, members’ mugs hanging from the ceiling now have a different meaning. The mugs that now face the Atlantic Ocean are in honor of deceased members of the Ugly Mug Club. The only way to become a new member of the Ugly Mug Club is to compete in the USA National Foam Blowing Championships.

Usually scheduled for the first Sunday after Labor Day and a staple of what is known in South Jersey as “the local summer”, the Foam Blowing Contest is a contest to see who can blow the most froth from his beer glass. The winner of the content becomes a member of the “Loyal Order of Ugly Mugs”. This bubbly competition has been held at the Ugly Mug since 1954, adding another layer of Cape May history to this establishment.

Today, the Ugly Mug is one of the hotspots for various visitors to Cape May. During the summer months, the Washington Street Mall is very busy with many people grabbing the Ugly Mug for lunch and dinner. Year round, the Ugly Mug is part of Cape May’s nightlife with live music and late hours offered by their kitchen and bar. Whatever your reason for visiting Cape May, be sure to learn all about the city’s history, including the cups hanging from the Washington Street ceiling at The Ugly Mug.

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Cape May is an ideal destination for South Jersey locals and holidaymakers wanting to experience a great mix of historic and modern decorum.


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