Food

NYC on the Half-Shell: Six Cool Oyster Bars

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As far as we’re concerned, each and any damn day would be a perfect one to find an oyster happy hour, settle in, and feast on dozens of fresh, cold, briny bivalves. It goes without saying that oysters might as well be New York City’s middle name — the place was practically founded on billions — and there’s no shortage of places to find and eat them. Here, we’re happy to share a back-pocket list of favorite spots to indulge.

Grand Army Bar (336 State Street, Brooklyn; 718-422-7867) opened its doors in May, giving Boerum Hillers a place to gather for farm-fresh mixology and a menu of small plates and raw-bar items. Arrive between 5 and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and you’ll be rewarded with two or three one-dollar oyster specials, and dollar-off wine and draft beers. (It does get a bit crowded, so plan accordingly.) During a recent visit, a good mix of East Coast oyster varieties were on the menu — Malpeque, Sewansecott, Island Creek, Taunton Bay, Fin de la Baie, and Mant’s Landing — along with some West Coast Kumamotos, all served deliciously ice-cold with little dropper bottles of house-made “accoutrements” on the side for neat and tasty seasoning. 

Situated at the corner of Delancey and Bowery, the Lower East Side’s hectic nexus, Sel Rrose (1 Delancey Street; 212-226-2510) channels a spartan, industrial-Paris vibe, its stripped concrete floors and walls creating an atmosphere of dingy glamour in the long, lofty space.

At five or six o’clock on a sweaty NYC afternoon, this is the bar you want to step into, because something tells you that coolness will transfer itself onto you — via the cold metal barstool on your sticky legs (just sprayed with a pothole’s worth of dirty water by an impatient cabbie) and the first swallow of a gloriously chilled, draft-poured prosecco on your sandpaper-dry throat. Happy hour here starts at 5 p.m. and ends at 7. That should be plenty of time to unwind and indulge in one-dollar oysters, which on our last visit included an assortment from New York, Rhode Island, and the Chesapeake: Cupcake, Ninigret Cup, Stingray, Finger Lake, and Wild Goose.

Kurt Gutenbrunner’s latest establishment in the far West Village, Upholstery Store: Food & Wine (713 Washington Street; 212-929-6384), directly next door to his first establishment, Wallsé, has evolved from a wine bar to a “casual-cool” place to drink as well as to eat, with a menu of creative composed plates. The beauty of the place is that it feels both off-the-beaten-track and absolutely of-the-moment. Eat raw oysters here, for sure, doused with a beautifully balanced mignonette — or try other, unique add-in combos like zippy, refreshing cucumber and mint; rhubarb and caviar; or uni and pickled celery. Upholstery Store offers oyster happy hour daily, from 5 to 7 p.m., with a changing mix of East and West Coast oysters like Bluepoint, Wellfleet, Hog Island, and Kumamoto for a dollar each.

Virgola (28 Greenwich Avenue; no phone) might be NYC’s tiniest wine-and-oyster bar, but it has the sexiest personality. At a mere six feet wide, set within a black-bricked former alleyway, the place compels couples to get cozy on intimate banquettes or, for the rare party of four, at the lone table. It’s flanked by a heavy wrought-iron gate hanging with love locks; candles drip from sconces, and the music is kept nice and low.

The best reason to go, though, is the oysters. Owner Joseph Marazzo brings in about 2,500 a week — no small feat for a joint that seats a dozen people. The rotating list includes whatever’s fresh that day, mostly New England locals like Wellfleet Puffer’s Petite and West Coast Kumamoto, Shikogu, and Giga Cup.

They’re presented cleanly, adorned with lemon wedges, horseradish, Champagne mignonette, and house-made cocktail sauce. The “oyster of the day” — often a hyperlocal variety like Montauk Pearls — will set you back just a dollar apiece. Other East Coast beauties cost $1.50, while those migrating from the West ring in at $2.50. Meaning you can fill up at a reasonable price point. Top it off with a bottle of Virgola’s prosecco — effervescent, bright, and only $28 during the 4-to-7-p.m. happy hour — and you’ve got one of the most romantic evenings the West Village has to offer. (Jacqueline Raposo)

Monument Lane (103 Greenwich Avenue; 212-255-0155) oozes charm: The artfully worn American salvage décor, rustic wood finishes, and shaded chandeliers make the room feel homey and cozy, persuading you to stay awhile. It’s a place to haunt for date nights or brunch, on days when your scarf makes three loops around your neck and your breath looks like comic-strip balloons when you talk. But there’s no need to wait for autumnal weather (or romance) to drop in, especially if you’re craving oysters but not a loud hipster bar scene. During daily oyster happy hour, from 4 to 7 p.m., there’s a small selection of local East Coast varieties to choose from (two bucks each), and snacks from executive chef Camille Rodriguez’s market-driven menu are half-price.

No oyster lineup would be complete without Grand Banks (Pier 25, Hudson River Park), the Village Voice‘s pick for Best Outdoor Dining in 2014. The oyster bar, located on a 142-foot wooden schooner, the Sherman Zwicker (the largest wooden ship in New York, for those inclined to keep score), is open only during the warmer months, and only on nights when the weather is fine. The boat specializes in Atlantic oysters, but you’ll also find West Coasters among the half-dozen or so varieties. One caveat: On that gorgeous weekend night, when the thought of going aboard for oysters, the sunset, and a cold beverage strikes you as just about perfect, count on a crowd. You won’t be the only one with the idea, and the boat has an occupancy limit. While the line tends to move along at a good clip and drinks are available as soon as you can wrestle your way to the bar, there can be a long wait for oyster service.

Finally, while you navigate the city in search of oysters, check out the Pearl mobile app — we’ve been test-driving this baby since it debuted, and it proves to be a handy resource, in particular the A–Z oyster glossary (although we’d like to see more photos of the individual oysters).