Past Times

The many faces of 42nd Street Oyster Bar

The original 42nd Street Oyster Bar had once been a thriving restaurant. It closed in the 1970s and was replaced by the 42nd Street Tavern.
The original 42nd Street Oyster Bar had once been a thriving restaurant. It closed in the 1970s and was replaced by the 42nd Street Tavern. N&O File Photo

The grandaddy of Glenwood South, 42nd Street Oyster Bar has quite a history. As N&O writer Michael Flagg reported in 1985, change was not always welcome at the local gathering spot.

Thad Eure Jr., owner of The Angus Barn restaurant, will raze a faded one-story brick building at the corner of Jones and West Street that now houses the 42nd Street Tavern, a rundown bar with a clientele ranging from street people to middle-class professionals.

In its place Eure will build the 42nd Street Oyster Bar, named for a popular restaurant that once occupied the building. Eure hopes the new bar will lure more upscale customers downtown.

Eure served oysters and beer to local officials Tuesday afternoon while inside the bar the old owner grasped a can of Budweiser and cried.

“It’s a beer joint,” said Bob Black, known to customers as “B Square.” “That’s the way people liked it.”

Black says he drank at the bar before buying it two years ago. A bearded man with a thick, gruff voice, Black’s eyes watered as he looked around. The lease ran out Saturday.

“Am I going to miss it? I near about cried in your face,” he told a reporter. …

After years of decline downtown is changing as older buildings are remodeled and filled with offices and shops. Mayor Avery C. Upchurch … said the tavern’s neighborhood northwest of City Hall eventually will become a residential neighborhood for downtown workers.

The tavern accompanied downtown on its slide. Older residents, including Upchurch, say they remember the thriving restaurant of 40 years ago that fed the mayor, state legislators and middle class families dining out. …

The building began as a grocery but started serving beer … after the repeal of Prohibition.

Eure says he remembers as a boy eating his first restaurant meal at 42nd Street around 1940.

“In those days the bar was upstairs and the restaurant downstairs,” said Eure Jr. “The men would excuse themselves during the meal to go to the bathroom and then go upstairs for a beer.”

The place closed in 1975, when the owner said it was too hard to find oyster shuckers willing to do the hard, dirty work for $2 an hour.

But the bar clung to life. In 1977 it reopened as the rundown neighborhood bar called the 42nd Street Tavern. The N&O Sept. 4, 1985

That sobbing bartender in 1985 was featured in a Dennis Rogers column called “You know it’s bad news when the bartender cries,” where Rogers sang the praises of the hidden gem of a tavern.

Never one for tony decor, it is a mean and intimidating place on the outside, a place that strangers will pass by on dark nights. But the customers smile even when they’re sober. …

I made a promise when they accepted me into the fold never to write about the 42nd Street Tavern, because they didn’t want the place discovered and ruined. With a couple of lapses … I kept the faith and my seat at the bar. …

The place is old and rundown, and people of high breeding turn their noses up at it. And yeah, if I owned the building I’d probably tear it down, too.

But I sure am going to miss it. The N&O Aug. 1, 1985

Indeed, it wasn’t the first time customers had said goodbye to their favorite “42nd Street” establishment. In 1974, N&O columnist Charles Craven wrote about the closing of the original oyster bar.

It was a little like when the Titanic sank – resigned passengers sitting in a drawing room drinking farewell champagne.

But this was in the ancient 42nd Street Oyster Bar Saturday. And the place was to close at midnight for the last time. …

The beaded curtain still hung between the bar section and the restaurant area in back. The restaurant, frequented in the past by governors and legislators, was closed some months ago by the owner, J.W. Watkins.

Legend has it that the 42nd Street Oyster Bar came by its name after two Raleigh men ate oysters in a similar restaurant on the famous New York street. They found that the oysters in the little joint here were just as good. From then it became the 42nd Street Oyster Bar. The N&O Nov. 4, 1974

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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