Oysters purify the sea, filtering gallons and gallons or water through their small, slinky, sacrificial systems. When oysters are full of toxins, it’s because they have filtered these poisons out of the water, purifying the oceanby absorbing impurities into their own bodies. These homely mollusks have fed Native Americans, cleaned polluted harbors, provided habitat for sea life, inspired American Impressionists, and created coastal culture.
From an abundant 19th century New York street food to their contemporary revival raw bar reverie, what a beautiful beautiful creature. Like a good friend that takes away the pain. Even if a bad one makes you forget their bounty, oysters are the purveyors of pearls and perfect companion to dirty martinis and Bloody Marys.
Admittedly, it’s this companionship that makes oysters house for me not harbor habitats, but happy haunts.
Though perhaps not as much as it loves crabs, DC loves oysters.
Debaucherous day-drinking Sundays at DC’s Pearl Dive, cozy weeknights with good friends at Hank’s, and a first lesson in shucking after buying bags of oysters at the Maine Avenue Fish Market, are some of my favorite sea-salty memories. Providing Chesapeake Bay’s plenty – and not only bivalves – to residents for over 200 years, the market is the oldest continuously operating open air fish market in the U.S. It’s not even close to chic, from bellies-out crop tops to J. Crew stripes, but it’s fresh.
New York loves the oysters too, with scrappy shells surviving in the Sound and even in the Bronx River though the dark dirty 1970s. However, as its as waterways became clogged with more and more pollution, oyster reefs that once thrived became increasingly unhealthy. However, just like the waterside parks that have greened Manhattan’s post-industrial edges, gardens are growing oysters. Off the shores of Sound View Park in the South Bronx is a one-acre oyster garden created by piling 100 tons of empty shells on the bottom and jump-started through the transplant of 100,000 farm-raised spat-on-shells by students from the New York Harbor School as part of the New York Harbor Foundation’s One Billion Oyster Project in conjunction with NY/NJ Baykeeper. Next happy hour, think about these fabulous filters and of your discarded shells building an oyster garden, have one less cocktail (or several more, depending on what makes you spend) and a make a small donation to one of these orgs.
But back from the Bronx to the bar, one of my favorite NYC moments remains a post-train evening stop at the Grand Central Oyster Bar with a dear friend after a Thanksgiving spent in rural Connecticut. Aside from this classic, the John Dory Oyster Bar is one of my favorite NYC raw bars, primarily because it was so perfectly designed by the excellent design firm, Roman and Williams. As with everything – whether it be design, friends, or oysters – it is both the Shell and the Meat.