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Some things remain same at Original Oyster House

The Original Oyster House in Market Square is a popular spot before a Steelers game.

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By Rege Behe
Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011

If not for the two flat-screen televisions at either end of the bar, you'd never know it was the 21st century at the Original Oyster House in Market Square.

On the wall are numerous black-and-white photos of former Miss America pageant contestants, reminders of former owner (1916-1970) Louis Americus' annual trips to Atlantic City, N.J. The barstools, tables and chairs could be relics from the '50s. The music in the background is subtle, muted. Trendy, one supposes, is not a word often heard in these environs.

If the Oyster House has a simple decor, it more than makes amends in atmosphere. Established in 1870, it's the oldest bar and restaurant in Pittsburgh, a place where you can hear the echoes of conversations past. Note the noon time patrons at the bar -- some there for a quick lunch, some in a quest of a fortifying beverage -- and it's hard not to think that 30, 40, 50 years ago or more, the same types of characters were sitting at the same tables and barstools, indulging in the same repasts.

You hear the collegial banter between the waitress and the bartender, the cook and the busboy, and think, "this is a good place to be." That idea is emphasized when a man is overheard saying, "When I was coming here my mouth was watering all the way down Penn Avenue."

Yes, it's the food that's still the mainstay of the Original Oyster House, which once sold oysters for a penny and a glass of beer for a dime. Those prices are long gone, but the signature fish sandwich ($5.75) -- lightly breaded cod the size of a steelworker's fist -- hasn't changed much.

"You hear it almost daily," says Rick Faust, who serves as manager and bartender. "Someone will come in and say, 'My grandfather or father used to come in for the fish, and it still tastes the same.' "

Other noted items include a zesty New England Clam Chowder ($2.60 a cup, $3.40 a bowl) and a variety of seafood platters that come with two sides, including the Clam Strip Dinner ($5.35), Maryland Style Crabcakes ($7.99) and Large Breaded Shrimp ($7.35).

What would an oyster house be without its namesake• A single breaded oyster is $1.90 (three for $4.95), and the Key West Oyster Dinner, with two sides, is $9.40. If there's a group outing that includes a person who doesn't like fish, options include a grilled chicken-breast sandwich ($4.20) or Italian hot sausage ($4.25).

In the wake of recent renovations in Market Square, the establishment consulted with a marketing professor from Duquesne University. Despite the influx of new eateries and attractions and the resulting change in the area, the Original Oyster House isn't going to make adjustments just for the sake of change.

"We feel we have something unique," Faust says. "With all of those restaurants coming in, Market Square has become something like a food court. We have an edge over a lot of places because when you come in here, it's something you feel."

Additional Information:

Original Oyster House

Location: 20 Market Square, Downtown

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Cash only.

Details: 412-566-7925 or website

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