From swiveling stools at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station, we made our choices. It was Monday, just after 5:00, and crates of ice and oysters were stacked in front of us, cups of horseradish lined the bar. Tiles line the ceiling in this dining room under the Main Concourse, worn smooth and gleaming, almost like shells themselves.
Only three others sat along the bar. The woman next to me ordered a plate of cherrystones, meaty and caramel-colored. She’d stopped at the bar, she explained, on her way to a political lecture at Columbia University. With reddish-gray hair, she looked to be in her 60s or 70s, and talked of her support of Hillary Clinton, of her quandry about whether or not to take a Gulf Coast cruise before winter ends. When the waiter walked by, she waved at her plate with her fork. “This clam is a funny color,” she told him, pointing. He took it away, replacing the suspect clam with another. “I always order cherrystones because they don’t cost very much,” she tells me, and finished the last of her gooey, ice-chilled clams. “I really don’t know if they’re the best ones.”
We’d ordered tap beer, served cold in tall glasses. A man in an apron shucked oysters deftly at a counter, and another man – tall and slim with drawn face – stood ready to heat oyster stew over a gas flame. We should get chowder sometime, we told each other. Then our ice-bed plates arrived well-arranged, as swiftly as we’d order them, always with cocktail sauce, lemons, paper cups of vinegar. Long Island Blue Point oysters we’d try, along with a half dozen of Northumberland from Nova Scotia, and a half dozen of Yaquina from Oregon. With the tiny fork I’d add horseradish and pull the oyster loose from the shell, then tip them back to eat. Some fell out easily. For others I’d turn the rough shell in my hand to try again. The cherrystone woman eventually held up her credit card and asked for a bill, then slipped her arms into her dark mink coat, readying to go. More men and couples were walking past by then, toward the saloon in the next room. In no hurry, we’d catch the downtown train a little later.
- Sandy Lang, February 2008