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.