This true old-fashioned oyster bar offers a fun, laid-back dining experience
by Dale Anderson
They do the shucking, you do the eating at this unique and casual old-fashioned oyster bar, aptly named: The Oyster Bar. The restaurant celebrated its 19th birthday in December, subject to Covid-19 restrictions. Social distancing is observed, Plexiglass dividers assure non-contact among customers at the bar, and of course masks are de rigueur until the eating and drinking begins. As devout seafood lovers surely know, oyster season is in full swing. It’s an ideal time to pay owner, John Sparrow and his crew a visit over at their historic Vista location.
Sparrow is a University of South Carolina business school graduate who was working a corporate job when he decided to open The Oyster Bar. He grew up dining at the iconic Sunnyside Oyster Bar in his hometown of Williamston, North Carolina where the concept was simple: patrons gathered around a bar and shuckers shucked raw and steamed oysters. Simple as that. Sparrow wanted a similar concept for his restaurant. The doors officially opened in October of 2001.
The menu began simply: oysters and shrimp. Their trademark cocktail sauce, “Mother Shucker’s Award Winning Original Cocktail Sauce” is famous in its own right and can be found for purchase at grocery stores around the Midlands and the Southeast. Sauce is made daily on site and served warm for a unique twist. Today, the menu has expanded quite a bit to include scallops, crawfish, gumbo, clams, crab legs and more. (Note, crab legs are on special Tuesday nights.)
Growder is a popular menu item you won’t find anywhere else. It’s comprised of chowder with grits (Adluh, of course), bacon, and cheese and is served by the cup or the bowl. Seasoning for shrimp and scallops are available upon request; options include: Old Bay, Cajun, garlic, lemon pepper, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning. The Beaufort Basket offers a medley of sausage, shrimp, and potatoes served with a side of corn on the cob and slaw. Capital City Oysters are steamed oysters on the half shell covered in garlic alfredo sauce, topped with bacon and cheddar cheese. Side items include red potatoes, loaded red potatoes, cole slaw, corn cobettes, and smoked sausage.
The bar is stocked and the beer is ice-cold, making The Oyster Bar a favorite haunt for energetic Gamecock fans on gameday. It’s a mandatory tradition for some. Sparrow prefers to use the highest quality Gulf oysters available, but when hurricanes and other variables disrupt supply chains, oyster may come from Virginia or elsewhere along the Atlantic coast.
Catering is available for private events. Oysters can be steamed on the event premises and shucking tables will be set up for your guests. Group prices will vary. Takeout is available but consider an in person visit if you can swing it and meet the “Mother Shucker” herself, John’s mom Mary, who is usually found greeting guests at the hostess stand.
The Oyster Bar
1123 Park Street
Columbia SC 29201
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 4pm – 10pm