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Whole Lotta Shuckin' Going On

Oysters are a Menu Mainstay at Boston's Union Oyster House


Union Oyster House Boston Photo

At Boston's Union Oyster House, 3,000 oysters are shucked on a busy day.

© 2001 Kim Knox Beckius
Union Oyster House is not only Boston's oldest restaurant, it's the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the United States. If you're looking for old-fashioned Yankee atmosphere, you'll relish the restaurant's hand-hewn, wooden ceiling beams, wide-planked wood floors, and cozy booths. Or belly up to the famous, semi-circular oyster bar, where upwards of 3,000 oysters are shucked on a busy day.

You'll find yourself wishing the walls could talk, and if they could, oh, the stories they'd tell! The building that houses the Union Oyster House is about 250 years old. It housed a silk and dry goods store beginning in 1742, and in 1771, printer Issiah Thomas began publishing "The Massachusetts Spy," long regarded as the nation's oldest newspaper, upstairs. During the American Revolution, Boston women used the dry goods store as a home base for their efforts to sew bandages and clothing for the stalwart militiamen. And in 1796, exiled French Prince Louis Philippe, who would later become king of France, lived upstairs and taught French to elite Boston girls downstairs.

The walls would buzz most, though, about the parade of characters that has passed through the doors of the Union Oyster House since 1826, when new owners opened the Atwood and Bacon Oyster House and installed the semi-circular wood oyster bar that you'll see in the restaurant still today. Daniel Webster, the noted lawyer and orator who served as a Congressman and as Secretary of State, was a regular at the bar, where he was known for downing a tumbler of brandy and water with each half-dozen oysters--and he'd rarely eat less than six plates of the tasty bivalves!

President John F. Kennedy was also an Oyster House fan, and a plaque marks the booth upstairs that was his favorite.

Of course, the walls might also squeal on me, so I might as well just tell you that I wimped out on ordering raw oysters--though I did thoroughly enjoy the Union Grilled Oysters appetizer. The menu is nearly as rich as the restaurant's history, with perennial favorites such as Lazy Man's Lobster--chunks of lobster meat baked with seasoned bread crumbs, drawn butter, and sherry in a casserole dish, and the traditional Shore Dinner featuring Oyster House Clam Chowder, Steamers or Mussels, Boiled or Broiled Lobster, Native Corn, Red Bliss Potatoes, and Ginger Bread or Indian Pudding. You can peruse the Union Oyster House's complete lunch and dinner menus online.

If you go... Union Oyster House is located at 41 Union Street in Boston. It's right on the Boston Freedom Trail, adjacent to Faneuil Hall Marketplace. For reservations, call 617-227-2750.

If your Boston budget is tight... Keep in mind that the lunch menu features some less expensive sandwiches and salads, and you'll still get to sample the "old New England" ambiance of this historic dining spot.

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