So bountiful was the oyster supply in New York Harbor during the late 19th century that the city was the world's largest source of the succulent bivalves. Although their offerings are no longer harvested from the East River, oyster bars retain a cultlike following in the Big Apple today. Four friends and I recently set out to tackle as many New York oyster bars as we could in a day.
WHAT The day's oyster list consists of 26 varieties from the East and West coasts, Alaska and British Columbia, ranging in price from $2.05 apiece for a Connecticut Blue Point to $4.15 for an Alaskan Canoe Lagoon. I upgrade the $23 Shucker's Special (a half-dozen featured oysters with a bowl of soup or chowder and a mesclun salad) to include a pair of Wellfleet (Massachusetts) and Canoe Lagoon. We tell our server that we'll be hitting other oyster bars in the city.
"Too bad you came here first," she says. "We're the best. We're the only place that doesn't pre-shuck anything."
I'm not sure about that, but the lunch at Aquagrill will be tough to beat.
WHERE 210 Spring St.
WHAT The Famous Raw Bar Special includes six Blue Point oysters or six clams on the half-shell with house wine or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for $8. The oyster selection consists of four East Coast and two West Coast varieties. We share two dozen, composed of Wellfleet and Spinney Creek (Maine) and Fanny Bay (British Columbia) and Kumamoto (Washington). Appetizers steal the show: Angels on Horseback, oysters wrapped in double-smoked bacon, and fried oysters with seaweed salad and ginger soy.
WHERE 280 Bleecker St.
JOHN DORY OYSTER BAR
WHAT The happy-hour special, offered from 5 to 7 p.m., includes a half-dozen East or West Coast oysters or littleneck clams and a glass of sparkling wine or a pint of John Dory's own oyster stout ale for $15. The oysters are fine, if not quite as memorable as at the previous places; selections include Mermaid Cove (Prince Edward Island) and Stellar Bay (British Columbia).
At either end of the bar stands an oversize fishbowl containing 100 gallons of water; one is filled with fish from the Atlantic Ocean and the other with specimens from the Pacific.
WHERE 1196 Broadway at 29th Street, in the Ace Hotel
GRAND CENTRAL OYSTER BAR
WHAT No tour of Gotham oyster bars would be complete without a visit to this Grand Central Terminal institution, established in 1913. The daily menu contains hundreds of seafood offerings, including 30 varieties of oysters. This is the only place where we find the wild Maine Belon oyster ($3.95). The Medley of Shellfish platter includes 10 oysters, two clams, two jumbo shrimp, three New Zealand mussels and half a Maine lobster. The Old New York surroundings make us feel celebratory, and the meal is a fitting finale to a grand day.
WHERE 87 E. 42nd St.
INFO 212-490-6650, oysterbarny.com