Union Oyster House
At 189 Years Old, America’s Oldest Restaurant
Talk about a place steeped in history! Union Oyster House began operation in 1826, in a building that was already then over 100 years old. In fact, this year the building is celebrating its 300th birthday. It is the oldest standing brick building in the U.S., registered as a National Historic Landmark. General George Washington and his troops came here to receive their pay. Once it became a dining establishment, Daniel Webster frequented the place, as did many statesmen and influential people of the day. More recently, John F. Kennedy read his Sunday newspapers here while dining on his favorite menu item, lobster stew. He always sat in Booth 18, which is now dubbed “the JFK Booth.”
What’s the secret to 189 years of continuous dining operation? Wes Hagin, one of the managers, says it’s a combination of consistency and serving traditional New England fare. “You won’t find the latest fads and trends. What we do here is the same as we have always done. We have it all down to a science. Our employees stay for decades. We are truly a living history museum — just down the street from historic Faneuil Hall.”
Union Oyster House has 565 seats and can accommodate 400 for dining in six different rooms. The specialty of the house was, is and probably always will be oysters. “We get fresh deliveries every day from local oyster beds, including Cotuit and Duxbury on Cape Cod,” said Hagin. “We still use the original soapstone oyster bar from 1826. We serve oysters freshly shucked on the half-shell, grilled with butter and Parmesan cheese and as Oysters Rockefeller. Our lobsters come in every day from Northern Maine and Canada. Our clam chowder is legendary, and is served with hot corn bread, baked in our upstairs bakery.”
Diners can select from a plethora of fish and seafood options including shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, scrod, haddock, salmon and more. The Shore Dinner is a New England feast of clam chowder, steamers or mussels, lobster, native corn, red bliss potatoes and gingerbread or Indian pudding. The American Bouillabaisse is chock full of lobster, steamers mussels, shrimp, fish, littlenecks and scallops poached in a saffron seasoned broth. It’s served with garlic bread to sop up every drop of broth. There is also a meat and poultry section on the menu.
If the walls could talk at Union Oyster House, what a historic story they would tell. These tales would certainly provide provocative entertainment to enjoy along with the same exceptional New England specialties served today as they have been for nearly two centuries.