The Oyster Bar has been open continuously since 1888.
It hasn’t always been called the Oyster Bar, but it has always served food and drink, even during prohibition, according to its current owner Steve Gard.
During prohibition, drinking happened “in a back room,” he said.
The interior of the Oyster Bar really hasn’t changed much since 1888. A person sitting at the bar in 1888 ostensibly had the same view that a person sitting at the bar in 2020 has.
Of course, because of COVID-19, no one is allowed to sit at the bar at the moment.
A tippler from 1888 wouldn’t recognize the rest of South Calhoun Street in 2020, however. The Oyster Bar, now considered part of downtown, was in the middle of nowhere in 1888, Gard said.
Gard acquired it in 1987 after the previous owner declared bankruptcy.
He worked with a skeleton crew for five years or so and was eventually able to make the restaurant a success.
Inveterate easterners tend not to trust seafood served to them in the Midwest… or tend to make a big show of not trusting it.
But the Oyster Bar gets its fish speedily from Dixon Fisheries, a seafood wholesaler that has been catching and selling fish almost as long as the Oyster Bar has been some sort of restaurant.
“We only deal with one- and two-day old boats,” Gard said. “It’s as fresh as you can get in the Midwest.”
Seafood is delivered three times a week.
True to its name, the Oyster Bar serves the titular mollusk seven different ways, including raw. Daily specials reflect interesting fresh fish acquisitions.
But Gard added a few non-fish dishes that have proved enormously popular over the years including a stuffed raspberry chicken breast, pork ribs, and rack of lamb.
There are newer restaurants in town with a lot more flash than the Oyster Bar, but none of them have the eatery’s character.
There may not be a better place in town for a romantic meal or a cozier place to get out of the chill and enjoy a cocktail.
Seating capacity is only about 70 or 80 souls with all bar stools occupied.
Somewhere in Gard’s upstairs office, there exist blueprints for expanding the place and adding a second bar.
But with the pandemic going on, Gard says he has no idea when or if those blueprints will be acted upon.
The Oyster Bar has had its ups and downs over the years, including a second location that fell victim to a mold problem, despite being in a new building.
But Gard said he has never had to ride out anything like this pandemic.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s tough right now. It’s tight.”
Throughout December, Gard will experiment with a heated tent that will cover the patio area. Most local eateries have tried to figure out how to do year-round al fresco dining despite occupying what is known as a continental climate.
These efforts, not always successful, are notable for their spunk and creativity, Gard said. Some restaurants have succumbed to the pandemic, but the Oyster Bar won’t be one of them, Gard said.
“We have received two stimulus checks,” he said. “We went through the first one, but we haven’t touched the second one yet. Our plans are not to touch it unless we absolutely have to.”
Taking care of Business
The Oyster Bar occupies a special place in the hearts of Fort Wayne diners. Gard said he doesn’t quite know how to account for it.
“We treat people very well,” he said. “If there’s something wrong with their food, they don’t pay for it. If somehow we make a mistake, which doesn’t happen often, we correct it and buy them something. We take care of them. We take care of the people who come in there. Every single one.”
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