This is an ode to the oyster bar, and not just any oyster bar. Today I raise a toast to the stand-up oyster bar.
A stand-up oyster bar simply means it has no seats. But this one difference profoundly changes a beloved New Orleans food ritual, and after slurping a lot of dozens standing up at them I’ve starting to appreciate why.
A stand-up oyster bar means minimal handling. Order a dozen and the oysters aren’t even plated but rather just plunked down before you, one by one, direct from the shucker’s knife. Shells brim with briny liquor, the ephemeral essence of oyster is intact and when shucker and eater are in sync, the only fresher oysters are on a boat.
The standup oyster bar also puts the bar in oyster bar. The setting encourages an easy banter among erstwhile strangers who find themselves eating oysters together, standing there elbow to elbow. We could use more places like this in the world.
The standup oyster bar also runs contrary to modern restaurant management, which ideally puts every customer in a seat, tracked by software, the better to up sell and push those specials.
That’s another reason I love them. They’re peculiar, they go against the grain and they embody the unfussy, everyman abundance of Louisiana oysters.
Even in New Orleans though, the stand-up oyster bar is a rare find. You have to look for them. There’s the classic at Pascal’s Manale, another nearby at Casamento’s, provided you can wedge yourself in, and Felix’s in the French Quarter still keeps a niche of its oyster bar for stand-up business.
And then there’s Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar, which took over the old Bozo’s in Metairie. Mr. Ed’s kept its standup oyster bar intact and has worked new ones into its other locations around town.
Together, these places are maintaining a tradition, and they’re proving that for oyster lovers sometimes the best seats in the house aren’t seats at all.
3117 21st St., Metairie, 504-831-8666
1327 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-267-0169
512 Bienville St., New Orleans, 504-309-4848
301 N. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, 504-872-9975
1838 Napoleon Ave., New Orleans, 504-895-4877
739 Iberville St., New Orleans, 504-522-4440
4330 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-895-9761