Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oyster Bar Saloon

Now and then I like to go to the Saloon at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. It feels like a secret, even though it's far from it. There's an entrance off one of the station's passageways, but I prefer to cut through the Oyster Bar restaurant--to walk through the fish-smell and under the vaulted ceiling's century-old Guastavino tiles...



...past the case of beige and brown, old-timey desserts, all custardy and moussey on their plates, sweets too dull, too 20th-century to be found in trendier locales...



...past the white U-shaped rear counters, the one in back reserved for staff, who, in white uniforms, sit on white swivel stools eating their own meals during breaktime...



...and through the swinging saloon doors into a dark-wood tavern that looks like a place where advertising men used to knock back martinis before hopping on the 7:16 train back to Westport. Indeed, it is commuters, mostly, who fill the room today. They lend a strange suburban feeling to the atmosphere as they talk about making money, golfing, and that new wine fridge they just had installed.



The tablecloths are red-and-white checkerboards. The chairs are all trimmed with rustic brass nail heads. The walls are covered with nautical paintings, mounted fish, and model ships in plexiglass vitrines. At the winding wooden bar you sit on a padded stool and munch oyster crackers with your cocktails.

You can get food at the bar, including oysters, and the knowledgeable bartender will tell you what each one is and where it came from. When someone orders an icy platter full of them, the bartender says that one is called The Naked Cowboy Oyster. Who knew that an oyster had been named after the guy who plays guitar in Times Square in his underwear?



Even weirder (maybe) are the chairs in the co-ed restroom lounge--a baseball glove and a pair of lips in leather. As you enter under the mounted tarpon, teenagers sit lounging, one in each strange seat, legs dangling, chatting before it's time to ride the train and head home to Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, Ossining.

E.B. White said that "Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness." Those words seem right, especially at the oceanic Oyster Bar Saloon.

13 comments:

Ellen said...

I pass by here all of the time, but have never been. I'm one of those commuters you've mentioned. I hear uneven comments about the food at the Oyster Bar. What was your experience there?

Jeremiah Moss said...

Ellen, i am not much of a foodie. in fact, i tend not to care much about food--i like restaurants for their atmosphere and history--so i might not be the best judge. i also don't like much seafood! but i had a fried fish sandwich here and it was fine.

on the upside, the bartender has a heavy pour.

Melanie said...

The photos are lovely. The Oyster Bar has an old timey feel to it. Cool place!!!

Goggla said...

Grand Central is such a treasure in so many ways. Thanks for sharing this - now I have another place to hang out when I'm up there.

ShatteredMonocle said...

I've always liked it. The Two Boots bar in Grand Central isn't bad either.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i dread the day when some genius decides to renovate.

BrooksNYC said...

The Oyster Bar has a distinctive feel, a soul, and that's what pulls me back. I stop in at least once a year, usually in the lull of mid-afternoon, for a dose of the old city.

Also, its shabby grandeur reminds me of another old city, New Orleans. Since moving from NOLA to NYC 1970, the Oyster Bar has been my best local remedy for homesickness.

If you're ever up for it, Jeremiah, the first round is on me!

Blayze said...

Oh Jeremiah. I am of the commuter class (and I'm only a spry yet still soul-crushed 22 year old) but my den is in the confines of Dante's Inferno, Penn Station. I must schlepp over to GCT and get an old fashioned martini one of these days.

Though my preferred old school kicks are on the Upper West Side at Vince and Eddie's on West 68th. If anybody's up for a drink or two, meet me there.

Jill said...

I love going to the Oyster Bar, it's like a trip back in time. I think the food is fine, but quite pricey, as you might expect. I would recommend sticking to the oysters, which are plentiful, full of variety and fresh, and the waiters very knowledgeable about them. The small ones from the west coast vs the giant ones from Maine (for example) and you can taste them all. You learn more than you ever imagined.

After, we always go for a cocktail at the Campbell Apartment upstairs, which is my favorite room in all of Manhattan. Live jazz too.

Here is my post from the last time I was there: http://mingum.blogspot.com/2009/02/romance-in-grand-central.html

Carol Gardens said...

If you stick to the sandwich menu at lunch, you can get out of there for a reasonable amount. (Of course, skipping the booze helps.) Bouillabaisse sandwich is 6.95, as is fried fish sandwich. The Oyster po boy is 9.95. Just getting soup is also an option for those on a budget. Some of the stews and pan roasts (fancy soups!) are under 15. I love the staff there so much.

City Of Strangers said...

Hi Jeremiah,

Glad you mentioned the Oyster bar. I was just there a Friday or two ago. I used to go the restaurant quite a bit a few years ago, though I haven't been in a year. I don't know if I'm a 'foodie', but I like good food - I worked for awhile as a cook - and the restaurant had great clam chowder, and oysters. But maybe I'm a sucker for any old time place like that . . .

T.

BaHa said...

No one mentioned the amazing--and unlimited--biscuits!

HippieChick said...

Noisy at lunch (all those tiles are definitely not acoustic), but dinner is quieter. One of the few places in Manhattan you can get fried clams with bellies (usually it's just strips)...delicious. Chowder and bisques all good too. Tried poached salmon once: okay, but blah. Fried stuff is better, if not better for you...