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A Taste of History at the USA’s Oldest Restaurant, Union Oyster House

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Boston is delightfully historical. It is one of the USA’s grandparents, and in this lovely, old city is a culinary gem that is as fascinating as it is delicious. Join us in the USA’s oldest restaurant, Union Oyster House and discover why it is an absolute must do when you visit Boston!

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A Quick HIstory of Union Oyster House

The Union Oyster House has been serving up scrumptious oysters and bowls of creamy clam chowder to locals and travellers alike since 1826. Even before that, however, it was an important building in Boston’s history. OK, so technically, it is three buildings that sit on the corner of Union Street and the beautifully cobbled Marshall Street. They were constructed in the 1700s and were private residences. From the middle of the 18th century though, things get quite interesting. Here is a quick, potted history:

  • Rebel Printers – Isaiah Thomas was using the rooms to print a subversive paper called Massachusetts Spy from 1770. It was rather anti-British and helped whip up tensions prior to the revolution. Here is a quick except:

Americans!  forever bear in mind the BATTLE of LEXINGTON!  where British Troops, unmolested and unprovoked wantonly, and in a most inhuman manner fired upon and killed a number of our countrymen, then robbed them of their provisions, ransacked, plundered and burnt their houses!  nor could the tears of defenseless women, some of whom were in the pains of childbirth, the cries of helpless, babes, nor the prayers of old age, confined to beds of sickness, appease their thirst for blood! – or divert them from the DESIGN of MURDER and ROBBERY!

– Isaiah Thomas, The Massachusetts Spy, May 3, 1775

  • Adventurous French Royalty – In the 1790s, King Louis Philippe I, then known as Duc de Chartres, lived in a room above what was then Capen’s Silks and Dry Goods Store and gave French language lessons. He was in exile after the French Revolution and briefly made Boston his home.
  • Hancock – No, not the signature guy, but his brother. He was paymaster of the Continental Army and this is where they came to collect their wages. I think he signed the slips with a regular sized flourish.
  • Atwood & Bacon Oyster House – The Dry Goods Store was converted into an oyster spot in 1826. The USA was going mad for oysters and Atwood & Bacon wanted in on the craze. They installed the gorgeous oyster bar which is still there today.
  • Union Oyster House – The shop was renamed to Union Oyster House and has expanded and become ever more popular since. It now stretches through three buildings and attracts celebrities, locals, and tourists alike.

There is more to learn and more to see, so I will stop there and give you things to discover.

Check out 12 Things to Add to your Boston Itinerary – Sights, Seafood & Cider

A Look Around Union Oyster House

Of course, the main reason to visit Union Oyster House, is to eat stacks of seafood. However, either before or after you eat, you can ask to poke around and see the whole place. The walls, and I mean all of the walls, are absolutely stuffed with loads of information and memorabilia about Boston, the building and the restaurant. There is even a a corner dedicated to the family that currently owns it, headed by the incredibly interesting Joe Milano. It is an ever-surprising mix of antiques, 3D models, plaques, and photos.

Union Oyster House’s Oyster Bar

The oldest part of the restaurant, that has always been for food is the iconic oyster bar. It is a small semi-circular wooden topped bar which seats around 10 people. Servers stand within the bar and shuck oysters (open the shells) for hungry snackers. If you are in a rush, pop in for a few plump oysters here and revel in the history. People have been here, slurping seafood for around 200 years!

The Kennedy Booth

The second most famous spot in the dining rooms has to The Kennedy Booth. As the name suggests, this was John F Kennedy’s favourite table. He liked the privacy of this high-backed booth. It is within the moody first floor with its dark, slightly wonky old timber. The booth has of course got JFK memorabilia and we were honoured to have the chance to slurp oysters where the man himself did so too.

After exploring every nook and cranny of the dining rooms, it was time to eat.

Whilst in Boston, check out Slipping, Sliding and Skating at Boston Common Frog Pond

Our Dinner

We were first presented with a slice of home cooked corn bread. This is served to all diners free of charge and is that perfect blend of sweet and savoury. We popped the butter on top so it was all nice and melty and may have accidently devoured the cornbread before any of the other food arrived.

Next, we absolutely had to try some of their classic clam chowder so we ordered one small bowl to share. The Union Oyster House recipe has been practised and perfected over generations and it was our first taste of a proper chowder. I liked that despite the cream, you could taste the seafood and it had plenty of sweet clams swimming in it. It was so comforting on a December day! After it was gone, I realised there were little packets of oyster crackers on the table that we had totally forgotten to add in. Ah well…

Along with the chowder, we opted for share a cold seafood sampler too. We each had a plump raw oyster and clam, plus three perfect prawns. I wish we had ordered more as it felt a shame to only have one oyster in the home of oysters, but I was too scared to be full for the main course.

Our entree (main course) was a pink, steaming medium lobster to share. It was served with clarified butter but honestly didn’t need it. It was so moist and delicious. Demolishing seafood is one of my greatest joys and we made swift work of it! Again, I deeply regretted sharing because it was so good but with a lobster and a portion of chips each, we may have struggled.

Returning to Union Oyster House

It was with delight that we found our guide opening Union Oyster House’s door for us on our food tour the next day. We went into one of the back rooms and sat around a big table. Small bowls of chowder were served and so we got the chance to add the salty little oyster crackers and try it. I liked the salty addition but preferred the soup without the extra texture (I am so funny with texture though).

Final Thoughts on the Union Oyster House

There are plenty of seafood restaurants in Boston, Massachusetts but where else can you have a delicious dinner in what is essentially a museum? It is a whole experience…and boy, is their chowder delightful. Pop in for an oyster and a beer if you are in a rush, but if you have time this is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. You will leave stuffed full of knowledge and tasty food!

Rosie xx

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