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—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 Governors Island—are in charge of building and operating nurseries and raising oysters throughout their life cycles.
2. Shuck for a good cause.
The Billion Oyster Project doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to fixing New York’s overharvesting problem. It has also partnered with more than 60 big-name event organizers and restaurants—including some of our favorite places to throw back a dozen (or more) of the briny beauties, including Simon & the Whale, Sea Wolf, M. Wells, Mayanoki, and Brooklyn Crab—to launch its Shell Collection Program, an initiative that reintegrates discarded shells back into New York Harbor. Once collected and cured for a period of one year, the old mollusks find new homes in restoration sites around the five boroughs. (With up to 500,000 oysters slurped during dinner service and oyster happy hours every single week, that’s a lot of shells going back in our ecosystems!)
3. Journey to New England, by way of the Bronx.
Take advantage of those coveted Summer Friday hours or take a personal day, because an excursion to the quiet fishing village of City Island is an all-day affair, offering antiques shops, nautical museums, quirky gallery spaces, and The Royal Tenenbaums summertime haunt to explore. The best part: the seafood. We recommend heading to Johnny’s Reef for a basket of fried oysters, with a harborside view and a refreshing sea breeze.
4. 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.
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 five 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.