Let’s Learn From the Past: The Original Oyster House

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In operation for nearly 145 years, the Original Oyster House is the oldest bar and restaurant in Pittsburgh.

When the doors opened at 20 Market Square in 1870, customers could purchase an oyster for a penny and a glass of beer for a dime. Prices, of course, have changed a bit since then, but not much else has.

While each of the Original Oyster House’s five owners has contributed to its history, the fourth owner, Louis Americus, arguably had the largest impact.

Americus, who owned the Oyster Bar from 1916-1970, introduced the enormous fish sandwiches that are now a staple of the restaurant. These sandwiches are famous for being so large that they require a special oversized sesame seed bun.

Family legend is that Americus’ wife, Mary, developed the coating on the fish and oysters that is still used today.

The decoration of the restaurant can also be attributed to Louis Americus, who for many years attended the Miss America pageants in Atlantic City, N.J., and returned with photographs of the contestants to hang on the walls.

He is also credited with guiding the restaurant successfully through difficult times, including Prohibition and the Great Depression.

During Prohibition, the bar sold buttermilk and soda pop instead of alcohol, a move that kept its union-organized bartenders employed. The Original Oyster House continues to sell buttermilk today, and it remains popular among its regular customers.

Over the years, the restaurant has hosted its share of celebrities and more than 25 movies have been filmed there. “Night of the Living Dead,” well-known for its Pittsburgh connections, shot scenes at the Oyster House, as did “Striking Distance,” starring Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker.

Today, autographed photographs of celebrity customers such as football legend Dan Marino, former President Jimmy Carter and musician Bruce Springsteen can be seen hanging on the wall behind the bar.

On Saturday, visitors to Hometown – Homegrown, a fun and flavorful food expo at the Heinz History Center, can sample food from the Original Oyster House along with nearly 40 other local vendors. The event, sponsored by the History Center and GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, will also include cooking demonstrations, a cookbook exchange and live entertainment. For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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