Over the past eight decades, 42nd St. Oyster Bar has become renowned as one of the South's most legendary landmark restaurants with a heritage dating back to humble beginnings in 1931 as a grocery store serving oysters and, after prohibition ended in 1933, draft beer. In fact, 42nd St. Oyster Bar was the first business in North Carolina’s capital city of Raleigh to serve draft beer in a frosted mug.
The story begins with a group of doctors from Raleigh attending a medical convention in New York who frequented restaurants for food and drink on 42nd Street. Upon returning home, they would call each other to meet at the grocery store, which they began calling Raleigh’s own version of 42nd Street. Thus the old grocery store at the corner of Jones and West streets was christened with a new name, giving birth to the legend.
The grocery store was opened in 1927 by W.T. Thomas, a police officer who operated the store for four years before it was taken over by J.C. Watson. One of the doctors who frequented 42nd Street in New York, Louis “Tick” West, convinced Watson to serve oysters. The compelling combination of draft beer and oysters was a success. “I’ll meet you after work at 42nd Street” became a habit for Tick, his doctor friends and a growing number of patrons.
42nd St. Oyster Bar thrived through the decades and reopened in 1987 in its current building by Thad Eure Jr. and Brad Hurley. Thad Jr.’s father, the longest-serving state official in the United States who retired after 52 years as North Carolina’s secretary of state, was a regular visitor of 42nd St. Oyster Bar through the years, and Thad fulfilled a lifelong dream as the new owner. Thad had already built a national reputation as a legendary restaurateur, best known for the Angus Barn steak house opened in 1960 and later as a founder of Darryl’s Restaurant and Tavern and co-owner of Fat Daddy’s Market & Grill with John Vick. Today, Brad and John are the co- owners of 42nd St. Oyster Bar.
Within walking distance from the state capital and legislature offices, guests often dine with the state’s movers and shakers – where people could easily find themselves at the table next to the governor, mayor or a state lawmaker. The mural painted on the wall above the oyster bar has been a centerpiece of the décor since 1988 and depicts the political and business legends that made 42nd St. Oyster Bar their favorite restaurant and retreat for fellowship and merriment.
The little boy pictured is Thad Eure Jr. Sitting next to him is his father, Thad Eure. To the right is J.W. “Willie” York, a member of the N.C. Business Hall of Fame and a well-known real estate icon in Raleigh who built Cameron Village, the first suburban shopping center in North Carolina and one of the first in the Southeastern United States. To his right is Governor Bob Scott, who is next to Jim Graham, a giant in North Carolina politics known as the “Sodfather” who served 36 years as North Carolina’s Agriculture Commissioner.
Today, the eclectic environment with a rich heritage caters to all interests, from the formal dining area to the oyster bar and cocktail bar. Customers say that people need to experience the atmosphere and artifacts to get a full appreciation, from the old boiler in the front lobby believed to have steamed more oysters than any other in America over three decades after World War II to the original neon sign from 1957. Fridays and Saturdays, add live music to the mix as the restaurant has become one of the city’s award-winning music hotspots.
Of course, the experience always revolves around the food and drinks. Over the past two decades, more than 80 million oysters and shrimp have been served after guests enjoyed 21 million hush puppies, a staple of Southern appetizers, while choosing drinks from 120 craft beers, spirits and a Wine Spectator Award Wining Wine List. Though oysters are the namesake, the restaurant fare ranges from all shellfish and fried seafood to steaks – all prepared with the same dedication to providing an excellent dining experience, from the hush puppies to the signature specialty Ahi Tuna flown in fresh from Hawaii.