A sprawling seafood house that’s prepared to sling $1 local oysters for at least four hours of every day opens in NoMa next week, filling a void for briny bivalves in the burgeoning Northeast neighborhood.
King Street Oyster Bar (22 M Street NE) has two locations in Northern Virginia. Its first D.C. restaurant includes a 4,000-square-foot location that will offer generous discounts over 100 of its 180 seats. From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every day, deals include oysters for a buck and a $5 price tag on sangria, wine, ceviche, crab cake or pastrami sliders, and wings. On Sunday through Thursday, a second late-night happy hour runs from 10 p.m. to close. There’s also lunch and dinner to start, with brunch trailing by a few weeks.
“It’s a killer happy hour — $5 food and drink and $1 oysters — no one is doing that,” partner Rick Allison says. “We are one of the few full-service restaurants in the two-to-three block radius, with a full bar, until you get to Union Station or [Union] Market.”
While Allison is a newbie among D.C. restaurateurs, he’s earned some serious shucking cred. Six years ago, he was executive chef at downtown’s famous Old Ebbitt Grill — one of the top-grossing restaurants in the country. Before that, he worked for the Great American Restaurants group, which has a loyal following at spots like Sweetwater Tavern and Mike’s “American” grill, from 1999 to 2007.
The King Street Oyster Bar menu features gumbo, po’ boys, lobster rolls, burgers, pastas, grilled filet, basil-crusted chicken, and mussels. Oysters on ice are on full display for customers upon arrival. On any given day, there will be 12 varieties sourced from both coasts and Canada. East Coast oysters travel from the water to restaurant within 24 hours, West Coast oysters get a 48-hour turnaround.
While the menu mostly replicates the oyster bar’s other locations, two new additions will serve a vegan crowd: a meatless Italian sausage and an Impossible smokehouse burger. Ivy City Smokehouse provides its iconic candied salmon and other fish to fill out a $30 seafood board with accoutrements.
Allison and his friend Jorge Esguerra opened the first King Street Oyster in downtown Leesburg in 2016 because they noticed Loudoun County was missing an oyster bar. They opened a second location along Middleburg’s quaint restaurant strip a year later.
The NoMa branch is situated at the base of a new 12-story apartment building. It will grow with the addition of an 80-seat sidewalk patio with an open-air bar.
The bar program will be a departure from the Northern Virginia locations. Allison tapped DJ Suan, most recently of Green Zone and Pearl Dive Oyster, as general manager and head mixologist. They met over a decade ago through family friends, vowing to work together one day should Allison ever move into D.C.
Of the 20 cocktails on the list, eight are low- or no-proof drinks to accommodate a growing demand across town. Suan’s “Three Crazy Cat Ladies” cocktail (bourbon, spiced pear, lemon, blackberry, earl grey tea) is a reference to his cat-loving wife and her girlfriends.
“One likes whiskey, one doesn’t drink, and the other drinks tea all time,” Suan says.
Growing up in Hawaii, Suan remembers making the scenic drive up Maui’s Hana Highway and stopping to sample vendors’ famous banana breads along the way. So, an Aunty Sandy’s Daiquiri is filled with Dr. Bird Jamaican Rum, bananas, cinnamon, walnut, and lime.
In-demand D.C. interiors firm Studio 3877 (The Smith, Succotash) was charged with bringing a nautical feel to NoMa, using mermaid imagery, anchors, driftwood signage, and bathroom tiles that resemble colorful fish scales. A collage of recycled shells along one wall reminds guests that their oysters won’t land in the trash. King Street contributes to the Annapolis-based Oyster Recovery Partnership.