We've waxed rhapsodic about Maison Premiere before, and considering its old world charm and superb menu, chances are we'll do so again. Elegantly European without verging on stuffy, with delightful absinthe cocktails and a modern seafood menu, this inspired oyster bar is the whole package (and then some).
Maison Premiere's Oysters
If you're looking for a wide selection, there's really no better place to visit. With half of their nearly 40 oysters available for $1, Maison Premiere has a larger happy hour selection than many oyster bars carry on their entire menus. We took our bartender's expert advice and ordered a mixed dozen, including Cuttyhunks (best name ever), Block Islands, and our all-time favorite—New England's plump, brightly metallic Cotuit.
The restaurant fills up quickly come 8 p.m., but during happy hour it has a refined, low-key vibe. Their cocktails are a must-have—we fell in love with The Last Cocktail, a citrusy gin drink mixed with a creamy pear purée and rosemary-infused agave. Topped with a splash of Prosecco and powdered clove, it's frothy, herbal, and subtly sweet with a tingly effervescence.
Prima's raw bar menu always offers a selection of Beau Soleils, Malpeques, Blue Points, Montauk Pearls, and St. Simons, but if you're looking for something a little more unusual, make sure to ask about their specials. The chef orders shipments of Maine's highly prized Belon oyster whenever he can. Exceptionally meaty with a ripe, pleasantly fishy sweetness, only about 5,000 of the wild oysters are harvested in the United States each year, since they're actually indigenous to France. It's a rare find for even the dedicated oyster enthusiast, and at $1.50 each, it's also one of the best deals in town.
Mermaid Oyster Bar
We visited Mermaid's Greenwich Village restaurant, which feels like a crisp, modern rendition of a classic New England oyster joint. Two additional Mermaid Inn locations—one on the Upper West Side, the other on the Lower East— offer the same inviting ambiance and happy hour special.
With six oysters on hand from each coast, Mermaid's menu is broad without being overwhelming. Brief but vivid descriptions accompany each option, making it a great spot to educate your palate and figure out which oysters you like best. Whether or not you visit the restaurant, be sure to download their free app, Oysterpedia, which offers photos and detailed information about virtually every breed. The special covers one oyster from each coast, selected from the menu and specified each day. The contrast between our West Coast Fanny Bays (fruity and dense) and our East Coast Barcats (mild and crisp) had us gleefully reeling.
Cornelius is exactly the kind of friendly place you want in your neighborhood. When your oysters only cost a dollar, end-of-night sticker shock becomes a badge of honor ("that's right, we did eat 38 oysters tonight). The cat sticker is a fine badge in and of itself.
One warning here: the oysters here varied. Some were puny while others were meatier. I was eyeing the plate while chatting with friends, hoping I wouldn't be stuck with the sad twerpy ones. But the $4 happy hour beers (hello, Lagunitas IPA) make everything better.
Essex Bar & Restaurant
The presentation was messy (enough so that it doesn't really merit a picture) and the oysters didn't blow my mind, but Essex strikes a fair balance by offering up their slightly-above-average Blue Points at an exceptional hour. Whether you simply can't make it to a bar before 7 p.m. or you're struck with a spontaneous, late-night hankering, you can rest assured that your oyster needs will be met—without dropping too much of your hard-earned cash. This is the sort of place best visited with friends in tow.The spacious bar area can fit a sizable group, and two floors of tables make it easy to turn a post-work drink into a sit-down dinner.
The Ten Bells
A cozy wrap-around bar gets fairly crowded during happy hour, but additional seating in back makes finding a comfortable spot in this trendy bar fairly easy. Chalkboards line the walls, listing dozens of wines by the bottle and glass, along with charcuterie, a variety of local cheeses, and a diverse menu of French and Spanish-style small plates.
The Ten Bells' Oysters
Our oysters took a long time coming and weren't served over ice, but they were so fresh and flavorful that the wait was quickly forgotten. Each day they feature two different oysters depending on what looks best at market. We dined on a half dozen of the briny St. Simon, out of New Brunswick, and Greenport's large, creamy Widow's Hole.
This isn't technically $1 happy hour; it's $1.50 for each BluePoint. But spending a little more is worth it if you want plump, wet, juicy oysters in this basement restaurant/sushi bar below the stretch of Soho shops. Loud and swinging with people, Lure is a classy, leather booth-filled space, great if you're meeting up with a date for drinks and bar snacks.
Domaine Wine Bar
It's easy to imagine walking into Domaine at 5 and staying until close, cozied up at a table with some good company, a generous serving of oysters, and a couple of stinky cheeses. Their wine list is exceptionally well-curated, and the promise of live music only adds to the appeal. Did we mention they have a disco ball?
When the bartender told me that they were only serving Blue Points, I immediately lowered my expectations. But the large, creamy oysters on my plate had virtually nothing in common with the flavorless rubber bands I seem to encounter with alarming regularity. Bright and juicy, with strong notes of umami, their quality left me feeling a little guilty that I was only forking over a dollar for each one. It's worth noting that it's their policy to send out the oysters still attached to the shell. Unless shucking in view of their customers, the chef leaves the foot, or muscle, intact to assure guests of the oyster's freshness. It's a little extra work, but with such great flavor, I'm certainly not complaining.