Jonathan Swift famously said, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster." In all the years of evolution that have followed, some of that prehistoric boldness must remain in those of us who eat raw oysters in the Midwest. So they are not found naturally anywhere near where we are -- we puff out our chests, king-like, and demand that this delicacy be brought to us. No amount of difficulty or expense is too much. We will eat this thing, unappetizing in appearance, highly perishable, that which must be kept alive under exacting conditions. We will eat it, if only because God and the laws of nature and geography are trying to stop us.
At the DeMun Oyster Bar (740 DeMun Avenue, Clayton; 314-725-0322) on this Thursday evening, this spirit of defiance is in short supply. Though they purport to be open every day until 1:30 a.m., by 11:30 it's just us and the bartender, and he is clearly closing up. In fact, for days the Great Blizzard of 2011 has had this city running for cover, specifically the covers on our beds, under which we have cowered.
Drink of the Week somehow missed the panic memo and went on a surreal date on Monday night. We took in the 7:30 of Blue Valentine at the Tivoli, with exactly one other couple in attendance. Afterward we drove down a drizzly and deserted Skinker with hopes of slurping oysters and sipping wine at DeMun, only to find a note on the door saying they were closed for the night. At the still-very-reasonable hour of 9:30 p.m., we tried for both pizza and a bowl of noodles in the neighborhood and were denied on both counts. (Thank you to CWE Pi for feeding two hungry souls during a nonexistent snowstorm.)
We visited Chicago a couple of weeks ago, where the weather was much worse -- mind-bogglingly cold, little BBs of ice striking us in the face, the sidewalks a slalom, and had a much different experience. On a Tuesday night, we enjoyed a fancy cocktail at the Violet Hour, caught some live music at the Double Door and grabbed tacos from the walk-up window at Flash Taco, all within blocks of our friend's apartment, and always in the company of a crowd.
Listen, Drink of the Week normally bristles at this tired comparison as much as any St. Louisan, but in this instance the contrast was so...stark. They may be the City of Broad Shoulders and all, but what does it say about our shoulders when the man behind the curtain tells us to stay home, and without resistance, we do?
Despite a half-dozen delicious oysters (two each of three different kinds, flown in today), and an equally delicious glass of Champalou chenin blanc, we're feeling a little bummed. The light, crisp white wine pairs perfectly, echoing but not overwhelming the subtle fruity and minerally flavors of the oysters. It was the recommendation of bar manager Chad, who amiably chats with us as he breaks down the bar. He even, sweetly, offers us another glass.
The ambiance at the DeMun Oyster Bar is at once intimate and elegant, quaint and cosmopolitan. Between the centuries-old reclaimed French tiles on the floor and the vintage light fixtures glowing dimly, this tiny space would be just as at home on a quiet corner in Paris as on one in Clayton. But without the warmth of bodies and breath, without the jostling and bits of other people's conversation, it just seems...empty.
Oysters are sedentary creatures. They find a nice flat surface to attach themselves to, and there they stay for the rest of their lives. So how about it, St. Louis? Are we a city of oysters, or a city of oyster eaters? Spring will break soon, and the trial of another winter will be over. Until then let's heed the advice of Teddy Roosevelt:
"Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster."