Stepping into Regarding Oysters, a speakeasy hidden on the top floor of a Murray Hill brownstone, is like getting swept into 1920s Paris. A roaring fire is burning, candles are lit, and jazz is playing on a phonograph. With your welcome martini in hand, settle into a settee that offers a view of a glimmering Chrysler Building. While you peruse the full wall of bookshelves that envelops the room, Regarding Oysters’ proprietor, Georgette Moger, glides in like a figure from a bygone era welcoming you into what is also her home. There are some people that fully embody another time, and Georgette is one of them.
Regarding Oysters is no ordinary speakeasy — it’s an oyster salon and cocktail experience where you get to shake your own cocktails and shuck oysters. And these are no ordinary cocktails or ordinary oysters, as Georgette is no ordinary host. You choose the cocktails you make from Georgette’s book Regarding Cocktails, which come from the repertoire of her husband, the cocktail extraordinaire Sasha Pestraske, who died tragically young. Petraske was the mastermind behind Milk & Honey, Little Branch and Dutch Kills, and trained the bartenders who went on to create legendary New York speakeasies like Attaboy, Raines Law Room, Dear Irving, Featherweight, Weather Up, and the latest to hit the scene, Saint Tuesday. Georgette explains, “Sasha was my husband and unfortunately, he wasn’t going to be able to write the book. So, I collected all the stories about the cocktails.”
Every object in Regarding Oysters is carefully curated, sourced from all over the world. Then there are the items money can’t buy, like the vintage photographs from Georgette and Sasha’s families that adorn the walls. The centerpiece of the atelier is a pale green 1860s perfume counter from New Orleans that doubles as the bar. Georgette found it in an antique warehouse in Hudson, NY. Here, seated on stools with no more than five other people, you learn to make cocktails like the classic Bees Knees, the Penicillin, the Gin & It, or another of the recipes perfected by Petraske and his team. Non-alcoholic imbibers can choose from two of the “Temperance Cocktails,” a Grapefruit Collins or the Fakerface, a self-proclaimed “cornucopia of citrus.”
You’re given a card with the recipe, which includes a description of the cocktail and its significance written by one of Petraske’s bartenders. Georgette brings over the ingredients, all made from her preferred sources, be it honey, candied ginger, or freshly made lemon juice. Even the ice is specifically sourced – it’s Hundredweight Big Ice, made by the team from Dutch Kills, and produced especially for cocktails. Then Georgette supplies you the shaker or the mixing glass and stirring spoon, depending on the recipe. She shows you how to shake it like you mean it, in order to break down the ice properly. She might lean over to add the finishing touch, maybe a spiraled orange peel.
To accompany the cocktails, Georgette has made delectable finger foods, like savory mini madeleines, goat cheese bon bons, and cucumber tea sandwiches. Our favorite was the cardamon-poached apricots stuffed with mascarpone cream and pistachios, topped with albino strawberries. “You’ll find a lot of French tributes,” Georgette tells us, referencing her own family lineage and her obsession with France.
Then you move onto the oyster shucking portion of the evening. On a former sewing machine table affixed with a marble top, you’ll find floral aprons from Fords London Dry Gin (an essential ingredient in the Bees Knees and the Business cocktails), a shucking knife, gloves, gold oyster forks, and vintage porcelain oyster plates. The oysters are usually harvested by Georgette herself from the farm of her friend, Meg Dowe of Yennicott Oysters on Long Island.
Your first oyster is flavored with Meyer lemon or an exotic citrus when available in season. Georgette then sprays the other oysters with different aromas — a spritz of an oyster perfume she’s sourced from Brittany, France, a few drops of cognac verjus from Angolueme, vegetal elixir from Chartreuse, and finally a luge with a choice of Maderia from Spain or single malt Scotch from Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye.
Georgette explains that in peak oyster season in France, it can be difficult to get lemons. Rather than importing lemons from far away countries, verjus is used instead. The verjus is made from young grapes of the cognac harvest, made in the same town where The French Dispatch was filmed. If you’re used to your oysters seasoned with cocktail sauce or red wine vinegar, you will never go back.
In a time when the worries of the world are at our fingertips, being able to escape into Regarding Oysters feels like a stolen moment. Two hours will pass and you’ll wish you could stay longer. That’s when an add-on nightcap cocktail might just be what the doctor ordered. When we asked Georgette why do a speakeasy in her own home, she says, with more knowledge than most about the world of bars, “This is as much of a bar as I ever want to have.”
As far as speakeasies go in New York City, there are actually only a handful that authentically evoke the 1920s and produce cocktails to match the visceral experience. Many simply play lip service or offer a superficial tromp l’oeil. Believe us, as we’ve been to them all as the authors of the book New York Hidden Bars & Restaurants (the book is now in the midst of an update for a second edition). Here’s our call: Regarding Oysters has got it all, especially if you miss the already bygone days of the mid-2000s when Milk & Honey reigned in New York City.
Tickets are $150, with add-ons available like a nightcap drink, the roaring fireplace, an autographed copy of the Regarding Cocktails book, and extra oysters. Georgette also curates holiday events, like for Valentine’s Day, with special menus for the occasion.