A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Friday, June 18, 2010

Oysters a la Mode

One of my fondest memories of living in Philadelphia was meeting friends for lunch at the old Sansom Street Oyster House in the heart of the business district. It was like walking into a time warp. With the detailed wood paneled walls and old wood bar and booths, it looked like it hadn't changed since 1920. At lunch time it was always packed with business men in $1000 suits and imported silk ties negotiating business deals on their company's dime.

You didn't go to the SSOH for the food, that was always very basic oysters on the half shell and various other Surf-and-Turf items, you went for the ambiance.
This cool, dark, men's club-like atmosphere was punctuated with brightly colored oyster plates that ran around the restaurant on a plate rail at the perimeter of the paneling. There were almost 500 oyster plates up on that rail, many of them majolica. Front and center was a gorgeous turquoise Wedgwood fish platter.

That was almost 20 years ago.

The SSOH has since undergone two changes in ownership and bankruptcy proceedings. The current owners, descendants of the original owners, the Mink family, closed the restaurant in 2008 for an overhaul.

The new Oyster House, as it is now known, is now open and looks nothing like the old one. It is a clean, modern interior with a large raw bar front and center. The new emphasis is on the food as the old Surf-and-Turf has been updated with contemporary flair and a lighter touch. Add to this a young staff, a high quality cocktail bar, and an impressive wine list and the old relic is now ready to take on a new century.

One thing that hasn't changed though, are the oyster plates. The collection has been thinned down to 200 now but they still grace the walls of the restaurant in a new, more modern way.

And that gorgeous Wedgwood majolica fish platter is still there, visible in the photo above, front and center where it should be

I'll miss the old SSOH, but it's good to see those oyster plates back up on the wall where they belong.
Maybe they'll inspire a new generation of collectors like they inspired me.

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