I thought, by finally dining at The Famous Oyster Bar, I might crack this mystery of a restaurant, which has dumbfounded me for 25 years. Who owns it? How have they managed to hang on to this prime piece of real estate (54th Street and Seventh Avenue) for more than 50 years? Do they own the building? What's their secret? I have been able to uncover little on my own, because it seems that no one has ever written the story of the longstanding restaurant, in either newspaper or guidebook form.
But I left discovering only that the place has been owned by the same Greek family since 1959 and has always been in the same location. There are no framed reviews or stories on the walls that would have told me more. And the waitresses are not forthcoming.
After digging through newspaper archives and finding nothing about the Famous Oyster Bar prior to the 1980s (the results of health inspections, mainly), I begin to doubt the joint's story. Maybe it didn't open in 1959. Since the idea of it's being a "famous" restaurant is obviously a fantasy, maybe the owners also made up the founding date. The only think dissuading me from this theory are the neon signs, the only thing about the Oyster Bar that does look like it's been there since 1959.
I'll get to the bottom of this one if it's the last thing I do. In the meantime, here's my Eater column: