The Oyster House

Oyster House
Thursday Lunch
The Oyster House

The Oyster House is one of the best restaurants on Thames Street in Fells Point. It’s more pub in appearance than restaurant, but its reputation for quality seafood makes it iconic among all the places to eat in this waterfront neighborhood. We pull up to the bar for lunch with a visiting friend. Behind us are high-top tables scrunched along the wall in the narrow room. In the back a square room opens up to make space for a number of white-cloth tables and chairs, but there is no room in the inn today except at the bar with its elbow-to-elbow seating. At noon the place is as loud and boisterous as on a Friday night: noisy, unruly, a scene in motion, people leaning across small tables and talking loud enough to be heard over the roar of dozens of other conversations and the clatters of service.

Our bartender, a seasoned, burly man who’s seen years on the wharfs or the sea, serves us with a kind of delicacy, almost like a priest making our communion for all appearances dear and individual. “Here, darlin’, watch out, the plate is very hot. No, too hot, don’t touch. Let me place it for you.” He uses his bare hands. “You’ve ordered just the right dessert, sweetheart, you’ll love it (such a tender presentation of berries and crumpets with cream across the beer-laden bar, before he turns to the row of taps, fills a glass with Resurrection, a local amber ale, and slides it to the young guy three stools down).

This is seaport grace, a symphony of multiple compositions: our bartender in motion; the old building, like the others up and down the streets, sighing and bending with its various weights; its exquisitely fresh seafood and strong drink and comfort served the way it has been for two centuries. Tonight the Oyster House will be full, no reservations available, plates rich with Blue Points, Wellfleet, Chesapeake Bay and Chincoteague will be served across the bar and carried on high to waiting diners, and we hope the crowds of twenty-somethings will moderate their drinking before these beautiful creatures arrive at their tables, so that they will taste the slick and sleek of them and that subtle, delicate, luscious character of them. Sip of martini, with Hendricks, slip of oyster. The heart and character of Fells Point begins like this.

Note: Fells Point has more bars per square mile than anywhere else in the United States. And there are fewer than there were 100 years ago. It’s a right merry place.
It’s residential too, row houses and high rises (mostly built out of old seaport warehouses) so parking is an exercise in patience for anyone who drives in to dine.
We have cobblestone streets and old trolley rails, tough on the tires. But it’s worth the trouble, and maybe an Uber ride.

The Way, Early Spring

Gray wraps the morning harbor
and when I raise the blind, I think:
a grim, gray day, the way the clouds
hang straight-mouthed, wordless.
But when I look again, determined,
I see across the flat water buildings
leaning their golds and reds into the bay,
and above these a gull sailing, lifting
first one side, then another, to catch the wind.
Here is the word of white, the word of grace,
the word of a single life out looking for food,
and I remember to call the day good,
to call the gray man with his gray bag
on a gray street good,
the way I should.

Nearly Spring

Nearly Spring

A Right Angle Triangle on Baltimore Harbor

Yesterday the right angle triangle of mast and boom appeared in the square of my window, and I was forced to look out at the day differently, listen to the clank and clang of the harbor with a new ear, believe in a sky defined by the ninety-forty-fifty authority: a fitting rule for that day and onward into this chapter.

Life is full of geometry and we find our days delineated by scores of polygons, each with its own formulas: family, work, friends, passions, education, the enrichment of arts, exercise, nest care, body and vanity maintenance, nutrition, and all those books stacked on a table. The rest of the proverbial iceberg, a polygon of polygons, waits out of sight, teeming with the angled lives of id, ego, and super-ego, that great storehouse of the unconscious and nearly conscious and too conscious. To give it a home, to keep it controlled, we rely on lines, rules, and formulas, and for me, in this age of life, it works to attend to them one theorem at a time, to calculate how much area in my life I will assign to each. It is a daily task. Today: ninety degrees to work, ninety to love and all its duties.

Attention to work I feel compelled to do is like rigging and unfurling a sail. Difficult to begin, each day, but thrilling once begun. I am full of gratitude to the Universe and all that geometric machinery its Mind has put in motion, sustaining me and pushing me forward with a good wind; the family circle and my charted square of friends: the waters and the flags flying on the yardarm. New book coming, new book coming, the square of window and the new triangle moored at my back.

I love the boats!

I love the boats!

Across the harbor

Across the harbor