Legendary P.J. Clarke’s Debuts Expanded Oyster Bar Concept

P.J. Clarke's PJ Clarkes Oyster Bar
The new PJ Clarke’s Oyster Bar & Grill space offers an inviting and comfortable space (main) with culinary treats like Oysters Rockefeller (top L) and Top Neck Clams Casino (R) as well as a slew of offerings prepared in their Wood Stone Hearth Oven at the center of their food prep area.. (Floorplan View by Celano Design Studio, Food Photos by Ashley Sears)

Blueprint floorplan floor plan restaurant kitchen renovation
Part of Total Food Service’s Blueprint Series on hot new restaurant kitchen renovations, new floor plans, and more.

Established in 1884, P.J. Clarke’s has long been revered as a staple of the Manhattan dining scene.

Boasting one of the oldest bars in the city, alongside an iconic menu famous for its burgers, and now oyster selection, the restaurant – or better yet, institution – continues to exude refined, classy, timeless vibes.

Now, as P.J. Clarke’s prepares to debut its newest addition to its flagship downtown On The Hudson location, a custom-designed oyster bar, Blueprint explores the inspiration behind the installation, and the work that went into its design and outfitting.

Phil Scotti, a long-time New York City-based restaurateur, acquired P.J. Clarke’s alongside business partner Arnold Penner in 2002 after realizing the brand’s strong potential.

  • DAVO by Avalara
  • Cuisine Solutions
  • Easy Ice
  • Inline Plastics
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Atosa USA
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • Day & Nite
  • Imperial Dade
  • Epiq Global Payment Card Settlement
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • McKee Foodservice Sunbelt Bakery
  • RAK Porcelain
  • AHF National Conference 2024

Drawing on his roots in the seafood industry, Scotti installed small-scale oyster bars in a few of the chain’s locations, and following their success, decided to pursue the same concept on a greater scale.

Hoping to also capitalize on the brand’s legacy, the new oyster bar will draw on nautical, classic, and modern influences as drawn up by Celano Designs to create a truly immersive and interactive space complete with a seafood display, an impressive wood-fire stove, and cozy finishes.

Designed to encourage conversation and socialization and replete with small finishes to evoke the feel of a dock, the bar offers guests an unrivaled view of both the Hudson River, and of P.J. Clarke’s stellar culinary team as they prepare food.

With help from Singer Equipment and a team headed by Bob Weir, Celano’s plan and Scotti’s dream came together. While the space’s assembly required some innovative installation techniques and imaginative design, Weir helped milk the most space out of the former ghost kitchen.

What remains is a first-class space that pays homage to P.J. Clarke’s long-standing roots, all the while serving up fresh, delicious oysters with a view of the Hudson.

The Operator:
Phil Scotti, Owner, P.J. Clarke’s, New York, NY 

The Equipment & Supply Dealer
Bobby Weir, Project Manager, Singer Equipment, Paterson, NJ

The Designer:
Vince Celano, Principal, Celano Design, New York, NY

Phil Scotti’s Approach

I’m proud to say that I’ve been in the business for as long as I can remember, since my father worked in the supermarket industry and used to occasionally take me with him on early-morning trips as a child to Dock Street in Philadelphia to buy fish and seafood.

We’d walk across the street into these older red-brick buildings, and in the basements would be all these guys shucking oyster after oyster. I remember they had a little hole-in-the-wall fireplace and come lunchtime, the guys would throw some oysters in there.

Really, I’ve always loved oysters. The coming bar at our On The Hudson location downtown plays, in part, homage to those fond memories of growing up around the Philly docks.

We’ve actually served oysters at P.J. Clarke’s for quite a while – about two years after I bought the brand, we installed a small-scale oyster bar across from the main bar at our Third Ave.

location, which did well enough to get us to install similar bars across all of our locations. The new oyster bar at our iconic downtown location is a much bigger project, and I decided, on a larger scale, to add another facet to the menu and to show people more than just eating them raw.

P.J. Clarke's Oyster Bar Wood Stone Hearth Oven
The pizza and other dishes cooked in PJ Clarke’s stone hearth oven from WoodStone contain a distinct flavor with an evenly baked finish due to the refractory stone and gas flames from the stone hearth’s baking chamber.

That being said, making sure that we source the freshest possible oysters is paramount to the bar dining experience. Most of our product comes from Island Creek, our primary suppliers, and we only buy East Coast oysters.

It doesn’t make sense to eat seafood, especially mollusks, that have been out of the water for three to four days.

We also do not keep more than six or seven different oyster variants on the menu at a time, since they don’t sell – we’ve usually got four to five on offer per day, and we sold more than half a million last year, so the strategy works really well for us.

The entire experience is designed to be really interactive and engaging for our guests, who, seated at the bar, should enjoy a front-row seat to the spectacle.

We’re putting in a pizza oven, designed to cook different pizzas topped with oysters and bake clams and oysters with different, unique toppings, which will be the centerpiece of the bar itself.

We’ve also hired shuckers that are personable, and we’ve really trained them to interact with the bar guests while shucking and cooking, so that people can marvel at their food being prepared before their eyes. It’s fun!

From an economic standpoint, the oyster bar really makes sense. With labor costs soaring in the post-pandemic economy, I’m always looking for ways to confine labor to the things that really sell, like oysters.

They’re classy and timeless: people come to eat a half dozen, and people come to eat five dozen, but they never go out of style.

The smaller-scale bars we installed at some of our other city locations have been performing well following COVID, so the oyster bar at On The Hudson is a cost-effective addition to our portfolio.

The pandemic helped us trim down our business to what was working best, but it was also really a show of the strength of P.J. Clarke’s as a brand. It hasn’t been easy, though.

Battery Park, before the pandemic, used to welcome more than 35,000 office workers a day; today, it gets about 60% of that, and even fewer on hybrid Mondays and Fridays.

Nevertheless, we’ve got a great advantage location-wise: we’re located near some of the city’s most popular attractions, and our extensive seating both indoors and outdoors by the Hudson River lends itself incredibly well to eating seafood.

The brand’s timelessness is, really, what inspired me to purchase P.J. Clarke’s in the first place.

I used to ask people “What restaurant do you still go to that you went to five years ago?” and the answer would always be P.J.’s. With the new oyster bar at On The Hudson coming online soon, there’s no slowing us down!

The design and construction teams, and everyone else involved with the project, were all amazing. I’ve worked before with Fred Singer and his equipment team – Fred’s truly a gentleman, honest and fair, and just a great guy to work with.

The same can be said for Vincent Celano of Celano Designs, who I’ve also worked with on a few prior projects – he knows just how I like to do things.

I envisioned a square or round bar to allow guests to intermingle and observe the food preparation, and wanted the oysters to be served in specially stylized baskets just like the ones on the docks – and he brought this to life.

Serving oysters is pretty easy – the challenging part of the bar design conceptually was prioritizing the interaction. The space is made to encourage guest participation, since one of the fundamental jobs of a restaurant is, really, to help people socialize.

Celano Design’s Approach

We’ve worked with Phil Scotti and P.J. Clarke’s before, and as always, it was a delight. He’s always really hands-on and involved in his projects, and his vision was perfectly oriented towards the preservation of P.J.’s classic feel and status as a long-time staple of the New York City dining scene, and the prioritization of the guest experience.

To help maintain the vibe of a restaurant that every guest feels like they’re coming back to after years, we blended nautical, modern, and classic design elements to create a timeless, yet updated feel.

The iconic On The Hudson location is located at Brookfield Place in Manhattan’s Battery Park City, and the nearly 1,900 sqft. oyster bar installation promises to boast spectacular views of the Hudson River, hence its namesake.

To draw on the site’s nautical influences, we wrapped the entire venue in a cozy whitewashed brick wall, adorned with worn oak wood tongue-and-groove wall planking to create an atmosphere almost reminiscent of a seaside cottage.

To play off of this concept, we’ve hung nautically-themed lighting installations throughout the space, alongside rustic, hand-written signage that displays the location’s daily specials and oyster offerings.

With a few antique mirrors, we intended these design elements to seamlessly combine different styles into a single, cohesive space.

P.J. Clarke's PJ Clarkes Oyster Bar
The efficient layout of PJ Clarke’s central food and beverage prep area allows customers a front row seat of their delicious meal coming together. (Food photo by Ashley Sears)

The bar space serves as an extension of this feel, with seating available in the form of bar stools coated in navy blue or cognac-colored leather, as well as P.J. Clarke’s signature channel-tufted banquettes.

The large oyster bar installation, with navy-blue tiling to match the seating, is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the entire space. Its main feature is a massive wood-fire oven, made from blackened metal with brass detailing, that will engage guests with tantalizing hints of every sensory aspect involved in cooking.

Above the oven is a decorative bottle display, with shelving assembled from oak wood and brass, and whose illumination casts a warm, inviting glow over the bar’s seating area.

With classic black-and-white tile flooring and a custom neon sign framed overtop, the oyster bar is a perfect installation to the ageless and renowned P.J. Clarke brand.

Bob Weir’s Approach

As a part of the Singer team, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Scotti and his team at P.J. Clarke’s for more than seven years now, and since then, they’ve always placed customer experience at the forefront of what they do and the food that they serve.

Our marching orders as far as the bar’s design was to create something that combined functional and necessary equipment as far as staff workload was concerned with that ‘wow factor’ that guests expect when they dine at P.J.’s.

Our biggest hurdle was probably finding enough space at the shucking counters to make sure that the guests could watch comfortably, and that the chefs could work efficiently.

Walking into the oyster bar, you’re definitely hit with that immediate sense of ‘wow factor,’ which really comes from the bar installation itself, but also the combination of many other crucial elements, like top-notch equipment, an impressive color scheme, and the room’s overall presentation.

The first thing you see is the huge pizza oven behind the bar, enclosed in a vertical display and framed by a large liquor bottle display, and the two huge seafood displays that form a large portion of the shucking counter.

This was very intentional on the part of the design team and Scotti – the room was designed to give patrons an impressive and interactive sense of what the space is all about: oysters!

What patrons can’t see is all the work that went into transforming the space into the magnificent oyster bar that it is today. The kitchen, which is located in the back out of the guests’ eyeshots, was a complete new-build.

The previous tenant was actually a ghost kitchen, and they also maintained a smaller back-bar area to cater to private guests. Part of the transformation of the Brookfield location was tearing down the wall separating these two rooms to create something bigger, and bolder.

With the extra space afforded by the small-scale demolition, we were able to have enough room to install the centerpiece wood-fire oven while making sure that the entire process remained up to code.

That wall removal was definitely the critical part of the entire restaurant’s conceptualization! Without it, there’s no way we would’ve been able to complete the bar installation and seating to the scale that Scotti dreamed up.

A lot of the concept revolved around being able to pass between the two spaces – the oyster bar and the traditional restaurant – seamlessly, to provide guests with a unique experience on every visit.

P.J. Clarke's PJ Clarkes Oyster Bar
P.J. Clarke’s PJ Clarkes Oyster Bar

So much of the process was made possible with help from our general contractor, TriStar Construction. I’ve worked with them on a few other projects, and they were really the central cog holding everything together and coordinating the entire process, from delivery to scheduling.

Brooklyn-based Carts Food Equipment was also hugely instrumental in helping design the preparation space required by the oyster shuckers. We sat down with P.J.’s executive chef, and asked him exactly what he was looking for equipment-wise.

Usually in these situations, we ask people what they want and tell them what, of that, we can do. Thankfully, Carts was able to complete the design almost exactly as imagined, which was fantastic.

While the venue is big, once you factor in the seating, the bar top, the food preparation space and displays, and functional workspace, things get tight quickly – Carts was really able to squeeze out the most workable space as possible, which was fantastic.

The construction process entailed a few hurdles that we needed to overcome. A challenge we faced was helping the restaurant adhere to food safety precautions, which require that oysters and other raw seafood products stay on ice or cold at all times.

Part of this meant that we needed to run FreezeGard along the length of the shucking counter, which was considerably difficult since the countertop material is quartz.

Thankfully, with help from Brenmar Inc., we were able to meet the chilling demands. The countertop installation itself was also difficult, but by cutting the stone into separate sections, Kitchen Dynamics facilitated its installation and welding easily.

Finally, we needed to deal with the work constraints imposed by Brookfield Place, which aside from hosting P.J. Clarke’s is also home to corporate office spaces for Fortune 500 companies and one of New York’s biggest malls.

We were assigned very specific and strict hours during which to work, since much of the installation process involved noisy work like welding. TriStar, our general contractor, did a great job helping facilitate the schedule to ensure we worked within our limits.

The installation of the oyster bar at On The Hudson ushers P.J. Clarke’s into a new era of culinary excellence, and is a significant step for the brand itself.

Facing the radically changed economy and work-life philosophy of downtown New York, Scotti’s push to expand is a testament to the resilience of P.J.’s, and of the industry as a whole.

It’s clear that the veteran restaurateur has great faith in his newest project – the space he imagined up, which draws inspiration from his own childhood on the oyster docks and from its proximity to the river, is a stunning amalgamation of timeless nautical elements and modern finishes, and boasts an impressive wood-fire oven and themed bar.

With help from long-time partners Celano Designs and Singer Equipment, Scotti’s dream became a reality.

Today, the space serves as a crown jewel in the downtown dining scene; with an interactive bar, an engaging team of shuckers, and an unparalleled water view, P.J. Clarke’s new On The Hudson oyster bar is not to be missed.

  • Epiq Global Payment Card Settlement
  • Day & Nite
  • Inline Plastics
  • AyrKing Mixstir
  • Easy Ice
  • DAVO by Avalara
  • AHF National Conference 2024
  • McKee Foodservice Sunbelt Bakery
  • Atosa USA
  • RAK Porcelain
  • Imperial Dade
  • BelGioioso Burrata
  • T&S Brass Eversteel Pre-Rinse Units
  • Simplot Frozen Avocado
  • Cuisine Solutions
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments