Biting Commentary in New York: Favorite Oyster Happy Hours
In learning about Kualoa Ranch's oysters, I've been surprised to discover that there are just five varieties of oysters grown in the U.S.: Easterns, Pacifics, Kumamotos, Olympias and European Flats. And of those, Easterns make up more than half of the cultivated oysters. So all the flavor differences between, say, a Wellfleet from Massachusetts and a Rappahannock from Virginia can be attributed to its environment, much like terroir for wines. More than any other seafood, to taste an oyster is to taste the sea it grew in.
Since discovering this, I've been obsessed with tasting as many oysters as I can. But it's an expensive habit. A dozen oysters can mean shelling out more than 30 clams. Luckily, New York is awash with oyster happy hours—seek out these pearls:
Cull and Pistol
The happy hour deal: Any oyster for a dollar, Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m.
Why go: At a lot of happy hours, the dollar deal is only offered for a specific oyster (Long Island Naked Cowboys came up a lot—love the name, but not my favorite). Not so at Cull and Pistol, where you can choose from any oyster on the menu, which, when I went, showcased eleven different oysters from Prince Edward Island to Massachusetts to New York, with a few Washington state oysters. After downing a dozen or so oysters here, browsing the other eateries in Chelsea Market is a must.
The happy hour deal: $12 for 6 oysters and a craft beer, 5 to 7 p.m. daily
Why go: This under-the-radar oyster and craft beer bar in the East Village offers a good selection of oysters and beers brewed in New York. "The nicest staff in NYC," says a New York friend who directed me here. Especially when they're giving you complimentary whiskey cake at the end of your meal.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
The happy hour deal: Bluepoint oysters from Long Island are $1 Monday through Wednesday, 4:30 to 7 p.m., Saturday 1 to 5 p.m.
Why go: Happy hour or not, this storied, 100-year-old oyster bar is worth checking out for its atmosphere, which is grand indeed. In addition to happy hour oysters, try a few from its incredible list; I counted 28 different oysters on it when I came. Here, I tasted Washington Shigokus and Maine Belons ("big and beautiful," my server called them) for the first time. How appropriate that above, millions of people move through Grand Central Station, while below, the Grand Central Oyster Bar is a terminus for 1.5 million oysters a year from around the country.
The happy hour deal: Any oyster for a dollar, Monday through Friday 4 to 7 p.m, Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Why go: A Belle Epoque-styled oyster and absinthe bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. With a selection of oysters that rivals Grand Central Oyster Bar, more than a dozen absinthes that can be experienced via an absinthe drip or in cocktails, and a lovely ambience both outside and inside around the marble bar, it is every bit as romantic as an oyster bar could hope to be. You'll just have to share that romance with a crowd: get here early.