The classic oyster bar has been getting a bit of a makeover lately with new spots continuing to pop up around the country that match a menu of bivalves with topnotch spirits and cocktails. From absinthe to rum to whiskey, spirits and cocktail enthusiasts can sip and slurp like never before. Here are 12 spots giving equal billing to their cocktails and their catch of the day.
Eventide Oyster Bar (Portland, Maine)
In as much as there is such a thing, Eventide’s cocktail list is as “classic oyster bar” as they come. It veers towards the savory, with tequila Bloody Marias, a Dirty Dirty Martini made with oyster brine, and even a Bubbly Mary with bloody mix and cava. And for the diehards? Oyster shooters served ”naked” with just frozen vodka or ”spicy” with a jolt of jalapeno tequila and salsa verde.
Boozy slushies and oysters—match made in heaven? We think so, especially when one of the guys behind the operation is Derek Brown, who runs some of DC’s top bars. And there’s a bonus. One dollar from every oyster shooter goes to support the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
GT Fish & Oyster (Chicago)
Sleek and sexy, GT teeters between raw bar and restaurant. With its welcoming banquettes and cozy lighting, it leans mostly toward the latter. Oysters usually appear in shooter form, dressed with tobiko caviar and raw tuna. Cocktails, too, are fairly genteel, like the All Too Uncommon with gin, Campari, yuzu and rose water, or the Old Money, a heady blend of bourbon, Aperol, walnut liqueur and allspice.
Hard Water (San Francisco)
Whiskey is the star at SF’s recently opened Hard Water. Even the décor is whiskey-centric, with rare, well-lit bottles serving as wall art. In contrast to the veritable library of spirits on offer, the oyster list is short and sweet—simply the best of the West Coast, served with a lemon wedge. And for Mint Julep fans, Hard Water’s version is a favorite.
Island Creek Oyster Bar (Boston)
Owners Jeremy Sewall and Skip Bennett describe their particular brand of raw bar simply as “shore food”, driven by their desire to connect diner with chef, with oyster grower, winemaker, fisherman. Where some raw bars have an austerity, Boston’s Island Creek has a palpable spirit of generosity, serving Skip’s mother’s comforting seafood casserole in addition to more traditional oyster bar offerings like littlenecks and catch-of-the-day crudos. Cocktails range from familiar favorites like a Death in the Afternoon to playful departures like a Juniper Mule, made with juniper brandy, fennel and ginger beer.
The John Dory (New York City)
April Bloomfield sheds her usual cloak of meaty fare and turns her gaze toward the sea at her Ace Hotel hot spot. Oysters from both the East and West Coasts complement a menu of light and not-too-sweet cocktails. We recommend the April Bloomfizz, which combines cava and Cocchi Americano with the tang and bitterness of lime juice, grapefruit juice and Peychaud’s bitters.
Maison Premiere (Brooklyn, New York)
Almost an instant classic, this Williamsburg spot is a stunner of a bar. And though the food, like the space, is elegant and thoughtful, Maison Premiere is first and foremost just that: a bar. Absinthe is the focus here, vying closely with an oyster list nearly 30 varieties deep, and a cocktails list to match. Chase a light, salty Dabob Bay with sips of an equally refreshing Carondelet, made with lemon, lime, gin, honey and sea salt. Or indulge in one of the most expensive oysters around, the coveted Glidden Flat, with a Rosé Royale, made with delicate, slightly saline Gatinois Champagne, cassis and a hint of citrus oil.
The Ordinary (Charleston, South Carolina)
Chef Mike Lata has coined the term “merrior” to describe the particular flavor of place that his locally sourced, East and Gulf Coast oysters possess. Brooks Reitz’ rum-centric cocktail list is similarly reflective of the origin of the bivalves, as well as the history of Charleston as a major port city. “Rum is such a spirit of the sea, a maritime spirit with a strong history here,” he says. Plus, it pairs beautifully with oysters, whether a classic Daiquiri or Royal Bermuda Yacht Club cocktail with rum, falernum, lime juice and creole shrubb.
Pearl Dive (Washington, D.C.)
Nautically themed and rustic, Pearl Dive brings a dose of Brooklyn-style casual to the District. The oyster menu features the usual Kumamotos and Kusshis, as well as Black Pearl and Old Black Salt varietals created specifically for the restaurant by the Toby Island Oyster Company and Rappahannock River Oyster Company respectively. Specialty cocktails rely on tried and true oyster-friendly spirits and aromatics, like gin, violet and lemon in a fizzy Fleur 75, or vodka, lime and cassis in a crisp and tart C’est Si Bon.
The Walrus and the Carpenter (Seattle)
Bright and casual, Seattle’s Walrus and the Carpenter feels as straightforward and inviting as the menu itself. Oysters tend to be from Washington state, and change daily. Cocktails rotate frequently as well, but are reliably interesting and favor oyster-complementing ingredients, like peaty scotch, pastis and sparkling wine.
The Oyster House (Philadelphia)
Though the menu changes daily, cocktails here lean towards the herbal and floral, a perfect choice for bringing out similar notes in the oysters they serve. Vermouths—sweet, dry and even a housemade rosé variation—play heavily here, as do other herbaceous additions, like thyme syrup.