We’re suckers—or, dare I say, shuckers?—for a good oyster. While fantastic oyster happy hours are aplenty throughout NYC, there’s so much more here for mollusk lovers. Grab the horseradish, because we’ve got five truly special experiences for oyster aficionados.
1. Tour (and restore) their habitats.
New York City waterways get a bad rep—recent tall tales about three-eyed catfish in the Gowanus Canal don’t help matters—but certain initiatives are looking to rehabilitate the urban oyster’s natural habitat. Turnstile Tours offers a monthly guided exploration of Kings County’s unique ecology around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with one stop being an oyster restoration project on the banks of the East River helmed by the Billion Oyster Project. The program, organized by the New York Harbor Foundation, aims to reverse the effects of overharvesting by introducing oysters and their aquaculture back to NYC’s maritime environment. Students from New York Harbor School—the only school based on Governor’s Island—wear many hats when it comes to this initiative; they’re in charge of building and operating nurseries and raising oysters throughout their life cycles, among countless other tasks.
2. Party with (literally) thousands of oysters.
Billion Oyster Project also hosts a yearly seafood fete—appropriately called The Billion Oyster Party—where more than 50 oyster farmers and 20 of NYC’s top restaurants will be shucking all night in honor of the humble bivalve. Seafood delicacies, locally produced beer and spirits, and saving our ecosystem: Who knew we could juggle so much in one evening? The oyster affair usually happens around the end of May, so make a note on your iCal for next year’s bash.
3. Slurp them on a boat with the Hudson River breeze in your hair.
Inspired by the oyster barges floating down the East and Hudson Rivers in the 19th century, Grand Banks runs one of the city’s best oyster bars on a gorgeous and historic wooden schooner. In addition to the oysters, enjoy wild-caught and sustainably harvested fish dishes, a bottle of rosé—and the sunset over Manhattan. A portion of Grand Banks’s profits go to the Maritime Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is preserving NYC’s maritime culture and educating the public about the city’s rich marine history. Some of the industry’s leading experts in seafood sustainability and nautical preservation often host lectures on board, as well.
4. Go shuck yourself.
We’ve seen enough home-shucking horror stories on YouTube to give us nightmares for years, but the fishmongers behind Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. are armed and ready to guide you through the debearding process so that your oysters (and your fingers) remain intact. Head to the Long Island City fish market for its hands-on oyster shucking and tasting class. You’ll never be as swift as the pros, but at least you’ll know how to pry your way to sea-salted bliss the next time you have a craving. Don’t worry, you get to eat the oysters you open (motivation!) and taste the slight nuances that differentiate half shells from one another. Bonus: Beer from Bluepoint Brewing Co. will be on hand to round out the experience.
5. Visit the oyster mecca.
If you’re searching for a grandiose oyster happy hour spot, you might as well head to the mother of all pearls: Grand Central Oyster Bar. Since opening its doors more than a century ago, the iconic space shucks an average of 5 million oysters per year. While the saloon’s postwork specials are pretty mouthwatering (roasted oysters served with anchovy butter is the briny dish of my dreams), it’s hard not to take a chance on its mile-long oyster list. It’s a little ambitious to eat your way through the hefty menu in one go, but you have plenty of time to try them all since the rumor revolving around eating oysters in months that don’t end in ‘r’ is just that.
Let us know if you’re ready for a briny good time around the city.