Billy the Oysterman

“The Place You Ought to Know.”

Billy the Oysterman

Pre-1898 – 1953

Seafood

Ownership:

George Washington, Harvey, and William Ockendon (1914 – ?)

William T. Ockendorf (Pre-1898 – 1914)

Location:

10 West 47th Street (1938 – 1953)*

11 East 20th Street (1912 – 1950)*

Wooster and West 3rd, Basement (Pre-1898 – 1912) [operated in the basement as a small oyster stand; eventually moved upstairs]

*Locations occupied simultaneously

Literature:

Robert W. Chambers, “The Whisper,” The Haunts of Men (1898):

[Summary] “The scene of that was laid in West Third Street in the palmy days alluded to when the thoroughfare answered shamelessly to the name of ‘Profligate’s Gate.’ Between MacDougal Street and Greene Street was a dive known as ‘Billy the Oysterman’s.’ The dominating figure of the establishment was not the proprietor himself, but his cat, ‘Red,’ introduced in the tale. Billy used to boast of ‘Red’ as the only cross-eyed cat in New York. In ‘The Whisper’ a murder has been committed. In the small hours of the morning there is a conference of the newspaper men who have been assigned to the case at Billy the Oysterman’s. They are discussing the crime.” (1)

Publications:

Billy the Oysterman – No. 11 E. 20th Street.” Daytonian in Manhattan. Blog, August 19, 2014.

Griffin Dunn, Mame. “Imitation – The Rarest Flattery.” Hoard’s Dairyman 53 (January 26, 1917):137.

Testimony from Billy the Oysterman: Billy the Oysterman of New York City, famous throughout the country for his glorious fish dinners, when asked the secret of his supply of fish paid a similar tribute to the products of the dairy. ‘I buy fine fish, but it isn’t the fish; it’s the way I cook them. I make them literally swim in butter – the best butter on the market. The best steak, chop, or fish is ruined unless you use plenty of fresh, good butter.”

Maurice, Arthur Bartlett. The New York of the Novelists. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1917: 245.

Notable Guests:

Budd Schulberg (Screenwriter): [On the ideas behind On the Waterfront (1954)] “I went to see Malcolm Johnson, who was very nice, and he pointed me to Father John Corridan of the St. Francis Xavier Labor School on West 16th Street in Chelsea. I went down and had lunch with Corridan at Billy the Oysterman’s, and he told me how men were getting killed, right there on the waterfront, and how nobody would talk about it. ‘You’re a writer, maybe you could do something to let people know,’ he said.” (2)

Notes:

  • Cole Porter’s song “A Picture of Me Without You” (1953) includes the lyrics:

Picture H.G. Wells without a brainPicture Av’rell Harriman without a train,Picture Tintern Abbey without a cloister,Picture Billy the Oysterman without an oyster

Menu:

December 27, 1947 (Love Menu Art, prints available for purchase)

(1) Maurice 1917 [See Publications]

(2) Tallmer, Jerry. “When Labor Ruled the Docks.” Gay City News 3, 345 (November 4-11, 2004).

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