Monday, January 27, 2014

Famous Oyster Bar


Not the Oyster Bar in Grand Central, which is under dubious renovation, but the other one, the one with the fantastic neon sign on the corner of 7th Avenue and 54th Street, that one. It shuttered last night after 55 years in business.

Opened in 1959, the Famous Oyster Bar was run by the same Greek family until the owner, Angelo Agmonostopoulo, died in 2010, when partner Ajit Saha took over.

The restaurant's nautical theme includes a hand-carved model of the Titanic, brass port windows, an impressive seashell-filled ceiling lamp fixture, a lifebuoy printed with the name "Oyster Bar," sea captain statuettes, and a 20-foot oil painting of Greece.

All of which are up for auction today at noon, with a preview at 10:00 a.m. (more info below).

I'd never been in to the Famous Oyster Bar before, but always admired their vintage neon sign. Thanks to reader Charles for letting me know about the closure, I did not miss my last chance for a meal in this comfortable, friendly classic.

I talked to the hostess who'd been working there for 15 years, and she explained why they were closing.

She told me that their old landlord lived in South America and didn't bother much with them--over the years, they paid their rent and he renewed the lease. Then his daughter took over, and she didn't want the Oyster Bar anymore. According to the hostess, this new landlord refused to renew their lease, even when the restaurant's owner asked for a month-to-month agreement. "I think she'll keep it empty," the hostess told me. "I think the building is coming down."

Later, the restaurant put a sign in the window stating that the closure was "due to exorbitant rent prices." Update: The owner told DNA Info that it was the rent, saying, "Four years ago, the rent was $12,000. Now we pay more than $30,000."

One way or another, after more than half a century, the Oyster Bar was not permitted to endure.

I talked to a couple of regulars who'd been going to the Famous Oyster Bar for years. "It's sad," said one, "People grow up with a place. They fall in love with it. And then they just get rid of it, like it doesn't matter."


Anonymous said...

I loved that place back in my Midtown years...

It's sad that one person gets to decide the fate of a beloved institution.

Mitch said...

Interested parties can see Brooks of Sheffield's review of it from last June, on his (possibly defunct) Lost City blog.

Ed said...

Apologize for being off topic, but I just discovered this 2013 piece that is quite thoughtful:

Pat said...

Huh? "Citibike is awesome" (I haven't heard that word often enough) and the "Highline is great"...and what about "f-ing cab drivers?" It is a pretty tough job to be a cab driver, always was, but before you could keep your head above water and maybe even save enough to buy your own cab. Not true anymore ... don't diss cab drivers or anyone else who has a hard job like that.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
randall said...

Shit. I just saw that place for the first time when the wife, baby and I were visiting Rockefeller Center on an unseasonably warm December day. Because we had the little baby in tow we had to truck on past that glorious neon sign on our way back up to 80th st, where we had parked our car (I know...I know, but I live in the 'burbs, sometimes its easier to take the baby into town when we know we can leave whenever we need to)and I made a mental note to return there. Guess I'll have to imagine what it must have been like.

Cari said...

The saddest thing? 11 months later and it's still empty.