Matthew Nash

Oysters at Grand Central Station

New York's Grand Central Terminal. Image via Wikipedia Commons

New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Image via Wikipedia Commons


Inside the Oyster Bar.Image from

I’ve never had much cause to hang out in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Arriving from Boston (or, for a time, Chicago) by train I end up in Penn Station; by bus at Port Authority. My infrequent LIRR trips to visit my grandparents departed from Grand Central, but I was a poor college kid and never would have thought to explore the Oyster Bar in the basement.

Which is a shame, because it is some of the best cheap eats I’ve had in New York and, tickling my sense of un-ironic nostalgia, one of the coolest.

Killing time this past Friday, waiting for my friend Jason to get out of work, I decided to walk from Penn Station up to Times Square and then across to Grand Central. The F train was nearby and, well… I’m a nerd and old buildings with lots of history are far more appealing to me than killing time in a Chipotle. So I made my way across the amazing open platform on the main level, gawking like a tourist at the artwork, the famous clock, and the balcony.

Then I got hungry.

The menu at Oyster Bar in Grand Central.

The menu at Oyster Bar in Grand Central.

Following signs to the dining level, I found myself in a narrow arched stairwell by a set of glass doors to an oyster bar. Raw oysters and clams are about my favorite food on Earth, and since there wasn’t a competing restaurant offering free bacon and beer I pushed my way in. My immediate impressions were of: low, arched ceilings; an open cafeteria-style place that should have been dark but wasn’t; a bar with lunch-counter seats and a long menu of fresh oysters; an arched door to a saloon.

Since I was there relatively early – about 4 o’clock – I was directed to the saloon. Here I found dark wood, moodier lighting, a vintage bar and friendly bartenders. I chose the raw cherrystone clams and  a Brooklyn lager.1

Why bother writing about this? Well, as the handful of posts on this blog demonstrate, I love to find the intersection of history and the present moment. I often think that the old is most interesting when it is paired with, and tempered by, the new. So the Oyster Bar in Grand Central is a living and breathing example of the kind of world people lived in a century ago, but also of how we can continue to carry on that idea of a 19th century lifestyle today. Not that I want to wear a stovepipe hat or debate the merits of the ongoing Reconstruction of the South (which ended in 1877, Grand Central opened in 1871), but I don’t object to being reminded that my world – with wi-fi on the Acela and unending text messages – can be shut off. In the basement of Grand Central I wasn’t wearing a frock coat, but I wasn’t checking my email either. I was eating good, simple raw food. I was reading a book. I was peaceful and happy and calm in the midst of the busiest city in the world. I was, briefly, outside of time.

Cherrystones with lemon, ketchup, horseradish and Tabasco.

Cherrystones with lemon, ketchup, horseradish and Tabasco.

[1] Note: Yes I know that Cherrystones are clams and the title of this post says Oysters. But “Clams at Grand Central Station” doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Categorised as: History | Rants

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