ontap oysterbars MaisonPremiere

Photo of Maison Premiere by Melissa Hom


Aw, Shucks

Where to find the best cocktail-centric oyster bars.


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 11 spots giving equal billing to their cocktails and their catch of the day.



on tap oysters eat the richPhoto from Eat the Rich
Eat the Rich (Washington, DC)

Boozy slushies and oysters—match made in heaven? We think so, especially when tone 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.

ontap oysterbars-EventideOysterCo

Photo by Doug Merriam


Eventide (Portland, Maine)

Oysters on the half shell, lobster rolls, clam bakes—all the classic New England specialties are here, plus some stellar cocktails that change seasonally, including a few bottled options, such as the Rosemary's Baby, a combo of gin, rose, lime and rosemary.


ontap oysterbars-GT-Fish

Photo by Eric Kleinberg Photography


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.


ontap oysterbars HardWater

Photo Courtesy Hard Water


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.

ontap oysterbars IslandCreek
Photo by Michael Piazza

Owners Jeremy Sewall and Skip Bennett describe their particular brand of raw bar simply as “shore food,” driven by their desire to connect the diner with the chef, the oyster grower, winemaker and fisherman. 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, which combines juniper brandy, fennel and ginger beer.

ontap oysterbars JohnDory

Photo by Melissa Hom


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.


ontap oysterbars MaisonPremiere2

Photo by Melisssa Hom


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, vying closely with an oyster list nearly 30 varieties deep, and a cocktail list to match. Chase a light, salty Dabob Bay with sips of the 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 Champagne, cassis and citrus oil.


ontap oysterbars Ordinary
Photo by Squire Fox


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. 


ontap oysterbars OysterHouse

Photo by Jason Varney


The Oyster House (Philadelphia)

Though the menu changes daily, cocktails here lean towards the herbal and floral, a perfect choice for complementing the oysters they serve. Vermouths—sweet, dry and even a housemade rosé variation—play heavily here, as do other herbaceous additions, like thyme syrup.


ontap oysterbars PearlDive

Photo by Charma Le Edmonds


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 highlight 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 C’est Si Bon.

ontap oysterbars WalrusandCarpenter
Photo by Geoffrey Smith


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 they change daily. Cocktails rotate frequently as well and are reliably interesting and favor oyster-complementing ingredients, like peaty scotch, pastis and sparkling wine.