Eating NYC Part 4: Oysters in Grand Central Station

I am always happiest in a train station. No, actually I’m happiest in a gourmet food store with generous sampling tables and buy-one-get-one-free sales, but I’m second happiest in a train station.  Immediately I get swept into the activity and anonymity; I love the imagination of a train station (such a dignified way to travel, too) and the possibilities of all the places where you could end up. 

The best train stations, in my opinion, are the stations with history and intrigue, where architecture and aesthetic are balanced against modern efficiency and streamlined communication.  Big, sprawling Union Station in Toronto is one of my favorite places to be, from the multiple transportation hubs (where I always end up on a train platform, regardless of where I’m going and the fact that I only want to take the subway up two blocks) to the skeevy bars and generic novelty shops. There’s nothing better than standing in the venerable great hall, full of elegance and turn of the century style architecture, and breathing deeply the scent of fresh cinnamon buns.

Mike doesn’t really understand my fascination with the unholy rush hour crowds, rude jostling of commuters and steamy heat of the trains, but I only agreed to visit the Statue of Liberty if we could also go to Grand Central Station.

Grand Central Station was a marvel, and I immediately fell in love.  The ceilings arched in a heavenly restored robin’s egg blue with delicate silver strokes illustrating the astrological circle.  As your eyes sweep down through the cavernous space to a four-faced opal clock, proud and smothly veined marble butts against intracate brass sculptural elements leading outside to the sculptures of Greek Gods and Tiffany glass.  Grand Central Station, pardon me, I mean Grand Central Terminal, is an exquisitely opulent and patrician facade for the whirling motion and energy at the heart of New York’s transportation system. 

Oh, and did I mention the other reason that I really, really wanted to go to Grand Central that afternoon? It could be that I had a craving for oysters that  only a train station could satisfy…..

The Oyster Bar, located in the Dining Concourse below the Main Concourse, is perhaps as world famous and beloved as the terminal itself. 

The enigmatic vaulted ceilings and Guastavino tile were spectacular above this sprawling, subterranean seafood mecca. 

The decor is a combination of Art Deco stylings and beaux artes architecture mixed with a heavy dose of local Italian lunch bistro.  At first, I wasn’t sure weather to order wine and ask for oysters, or grab a Brio and order a veal sandwich, hot.  

The paper menu, updated daily, was as deliciously seafood centric as one would expect.  There were classic favorites such as fish and chips, lobster rolls, steak and pasta, as well as the infamous and swoon-worthy Manhattan Clam Chowder, but I only had eyes for the oysters….all 34 varieties that were in stock that day!

We went with some trusted ol’ reliables (Malpeque from PEI, Canada and Kumamoto from California), a new favorite (French Kiss from New Brunswick, Canada) and a wild card (Meximoto from Baja, Mexico).  The Meximoto were a pleasant surprise, but all of the oysters were impeccably fresh, suggestively rounded and meaty, and unbearably delicious.

Don’t expect any glamorous garnishes at The Oyster Bar.  Simplicity rules the classic accompaniments, which include sea salt, Tabasco & hot pepper sauce, ketchup, horseradish, lemon, and an acidic vinegar.  Being a bit of a purist, a squeeze of lemon and I was off to the races.

If we had been able to stay and try each one of the oysters on the menu, share a bowl of clam chowder and then chow down on the fish and chips, we would have. Sadly, we had neither the time, finances, or physical ability, so we were only able to enjoy a small cross section of the fruits Oyster Bar offers. 

Please, don’t be thrown off by the paper menu and diner-style seating areas.  Instead, take a moment to pause from the hustle and madness of the terminal to enjoy the luscious arched ambiance and exquisite oysters at an intrinsic part of New York’s edible history.   

Would we go back? Heck, you couldn’t keep me away.

The Oyster Bar

Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10017
Neighborhood: Midtown East

(212) 490-6650

  • tobias cooks!

    Good to know! Thanks for sharing!

  • Amy

    Did you make time to go to the back room for a quick drink? A good friend took me back there and I swear its like stepping back in time to the 50’s with the gorgeous woodwork and the looong bar. The beer on tap is incredible, and my friend about died of happiness when the bartender served him an old fashioned in a true martini glass (smaller than the ones you normally see) with a pony glass on the side filled with the booze left in the shaker. Like an adult version of getting the metal canister on the side of your milk-shake.

  • Pamela

    I ate at the Oyster Bar when I was in New York a few years ago and I still remember the meal with great fondness. It was the best catfish I’ve ever had.

    Thanks so much for sharing your NYC eating adventures with us; I always appreciate an opportunity to live vicariously through someone else.

  • erica

    Did you whisper to each other using the vaulted ceilings?
    In the area right in front of the Oyster Bar, the ceilings are angled so perfectly that one person whispering in one corner can be heard perfectly by someone standing on the diagonal corner. It’s a fantastic, dorky, childish, amazing thing.
    (See: Whispering Gallery: #7)