By Bobby Bush
The 42nd St. Oyster Bar cannot be found on 42nd Street in Raleigh. This venerable establishment sits proudly at the corner of Jones and West Streets in North Carolina's state capital. Named after a street in New York City favored by the restaurant's original owner as a prime beer drinking location, the facility transformed from a grocery store into a restaurant shortly after Prohibition's demise in 1933. Though it has changed hands several times, the business remained open until 1985. Remodeled by new owners, the 42nd Street Oyster Bar & Seafood Grill reopened in 1987 and has been pushing delicacies from the ocean, most caught by their own fleet of boats and processed by their own seafood company in Southport, NC, ever since. One of many company mottoes puts it nicely: "Seafood any fresher would still be in the ocean."
Obviously, there's a point to all of this. Along with a bowl of steamed clams, fried calamari or slithery raw oysters, some sort of liquid refreshment is most always consumed. Perpendicular to the raw bar in this huge restaurant is an equally busy beer bar, featuring over 50 imports and micro bottles - from Thomas Kemper Auction Block Amber Unfiltered Ale to Young's Double Chocolate Stout - and a wonderful display of draft brews, including five from NC and others from California, Virginia, Oregon and the UK. Making the experience, with or without seafood, even more enjoyable are enthusiastic and knowledgeable bartenders. Get J.C. to pour you a black & tan with Rogue Brutal Bitter under Guinness Stout and you'll see what I mean.
The memorabilia and tradition of 42nd Street Oyster Bar has new neighbors. The neighborhood, known as Powerhouse, was the site of Raleigh's first electric power plant. Developers have sunk $9 million into the Carolina Power & Light retail complex. Just across the side boulevard from 42nd Street, Southend Brewery & Smokehouse, the third brewpub for the Charlotte-based restaurant group, opened last November and, judging by the boisterous crowd I witnessed on two separate visits, has been doing quite nicely. In addition to mainstays Carolina Blonde and Blonde Light, brewers Bob High and John Clark struggle to keep up with demand for their Ironman Wheat, Scarlet Ale, Chocolate Ale and Friar Tuck's Oatmeal Stout. The occupancy rating is 413, so there's room for plenty of beer drinkers.
Appropriately enough, just before St. Patty's Day, an Irish bar opened across from the Oyster Bar's front drive. Ri-Ra, which also has an outlet in downtown Charlotte, features traditional decor. Each facet of its four sided, centrally positioned bar opens to a different room, three of which feature living room setting. The front room, a cozy though noisy lounge, was an obvious place to start. It took several minutes to attract the bartender's attention as she ran from room to room behind the bar. Eyeing tap handles of Guinness, Bass, Harp, Highfalls Irish Amber, Foster, Boddington and Woodpecker cider, I finally placed my order. Without even asking my preference, this obviously non-Irish lass skillfully layered Guinness above Bass Ale, an Irish above an English ale. Any true Irishman knows that this potion should be all Irish, correctly utilizing Harp lager instead of that English swill. Blasphemy!
What the heck, it took so long to get, I drank it down without a whimper. I had been warned that service at Ri-Ra was poor. The harried bartender proved that twice more before I retired for the night.
There's been a Ri-Ra in Dublin since 1993. The word means "uproar," but this Raleigh bar defines it as "A place or state where exuberance and revelry prevail; where music and merriment compete and the conversation flows smooth as the Guinness ebbs in the glass." Just don't expect that merriment to be delivered on a timely basis.
David Fowlkes, crazed brewer at Mad Boar Restaurant & Brewery in North Myrtle Beach, SC, called recently to let us know what he's been brewing. Independence Lager will be on tap in time for the 4th of July. This patriotic session beer features Centennial and Liberty hops along with 31 pounds of Atomic Fire Balls in the brew. It's light pink and wafts a cinnamon scent which is lost in the flavor profile.
By late July, David will have a Belgian Pale Ale ready, which will be followed by either an Extra Pale Ale or Cherry Wheat. Also look for an Oyster Oatmeal Stout, made with real oysters. 42nd Street Oyster Bar should take note.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush