I live near Battery Park in New York City (as I say to people when they ask, “Wayyy downtown.”) so I frequent the Pier A Harbor House because I can sit outside with my dog and enjoy beer from clean tap lines (unfortunately not always the case in my neighborhood). Well Pier A Harbor House is no more because it is now Pier A Oyster House.
They’ve always had great oysters so this is more of a “renaming” than a “rebranding,” if you ask me. I’m sure they’ll be pushing a lot of Guinness as the Irish Stout is a classic pairing with oysters (though it’s not my favorite).
Guinness was first imported to America in just eight barrels more than *200* years ago (October 6, 1817 to be exact), this got me thinking, when did we first start eating oysters in America?
The answer: people were eating oysters in America before it was America. The Lenape and other Native American tribes have been eating oysters for almost 9,000 years as evidenced by shells recovered from trash pits. According to anthropologists the very first oyster was likely consumed by a human about 164,000 years ago, although this happened in caves in South Africa, far from the shores of America.
So, we’ve been eating oysters for well, forever but they became en-vogue and a mate to drinking in 19th century. Historians generally agree that oysters were first served in 1763 in a basement on the corner of Broad and Wall Street (just blocks form Pier A which inspired this whole exploration into oyster-y origins). By 1830 similar “oyster cellars” covered the city and had spread throughout the east coast. As refrigeration and canning technology improved, oysters made it inland to Midwestern cities including St. Louis and Cincinnati in the 1840s.
This was the height of oyster fever, the bivalves were cheap, trendy, and filled your belly when you were drinking: a beloved find for both pub goers and bartenders. Oyster cellars had special like “All you can eat oysters for 6 cents,” to keep patrons on their stools drinking.
Knowing Guinness came to the U.S. in 1817 and was gaining popularity by the oyster boom of the 1840s, is this why the two are linked as a “perfect pair?”
That doesn’t seem to be the case, while we all know the Guinness ads featuring oysters, all the ads I could find were from the mid 1900s. Although I did find one fun note buried in Guinness’s advertising archives: “Benjamin Disraeli (British Prime Minister, 1874 – 1880) is known to have had the perfect combination of oysters and stout on the night of November 21 1837 ‘the most remarkable day hitherto of my life’.”
So maybe it wasn’t mass media forcing the combination of oysters and stout onto consumers, maybe everyone just had the "most remarkable day hitherto of” their lives when they gave the combo a try.
Feel like deep diving on oyster history? These were the most useful sites I read
Consider the Oyster - American Heritage
The Great Oyster Craze - MSU Archaeology Program
United States 18th, 19th Century - Oyster.us
History on the Half Shell: The Story of New York City and It’s Oysters - The New York Public Library Blog