Boston Oyster House

Street Address: 
21 South Clark Street
Chicago, IL

Culled from: Drury, John. Dining in Chicago, New York: The John Day Company, 1931, pp. 94-96.

Note: The Newberry Library holds the personal papers of author John Drury.


Ancient, But New

In 1875, when men were men and women were women, and Chicago was rebuilding itself after the great fire of two years earlier, Colonel John S. Wilson founded Wilson's Oyster House in the basement of a building at Clark and Madison Streets. Then he changed the name to the Boston Oyster House — a name which has remained to this day. His specialty was shell fish. Colonel John S. Wilson now occupies a place in local history as the first caterer to serve live lobsters in this region. His restaurant and his lobsters soon attracted attention and in time the Boston Oyster House became the rendezvous of the Four Hundred of that day.

The cashier was a young man of likable personality. His name was Charles E. Rector. Later he became manager of the establishment. Then he gave up his connection with Colonel Wilson to accept a position as head caterer for a railroad. Some years later he opened a basement oyster house of his own at Clark and Monroe Streets. This place soon eclipsed the Boston Oyster House in popularity and Rector's became the Mecca of Chicago's night life. Seeking new worlds to conquer, Rector opened a restaurant in New York City and . . . but need we go on? After all, we're writing about the Boston Oyster House.

Then, in 1899, Harry C. Moir became manager of the Boston Oyster House and the old eight-story Morrison Hotel that rose above it. Prominent citizens continued to foregather here. Writers came. That old Kentucky philosopher, Opie Read, sat here and talked with friends in the days when he was a newspaperman and before he became famous as a novelist. Came also Senator James Hamilton Lewis, whiskers and all, and Edward F. Dunne, before he became governor of Illinois. Finley Peter Dunne, creator of "Mr. Dooley," and the late Fred A. Chappell, writer and philosopher, were other frequenters. And there are many who recall the International Live Stock shows of those days, when the stockmen and cowboys from the wild west would wind up a night amid the bright lights of the Loop with a 6 A. M. breakfast at the Boston, consisting of two dozen oysters on the half shell.

This place continued through the years in its basement location. In 1925 a new Boston Oyster House blossomed forth under the auspices of Gus and Fred Mann, well-known Chicago restaurateurs. It was fitted out to look like a ship's cabin — at a cost of $200,000. But alas, the Mann brothers were unable to get a return on their investment and the Boston Oyster House once more fell back into the hands of Harry Moir.

Today, the Boston Oyster House is an elegant basement dining room of the Morrison — sans marine trappings. All that remains of the original establishment is the name. True, sea food is still served, with lobsters as a specialty, but Chicagoans do not go to this place for sea food or lobsters as they did in the old days. There are too many other sea food restaurants in town now.

But we don't wish to imply that the sea foods here are second rate; you will find them as good as any in Chicago. And there are other savory dishes — for example, Pearl's Special, consisting of porterhouse steak and baked potato and named after Pearl Kuntz, who has been head waitress here for over ten years. They have a large menu, the food is wholesome, the waitresses are fleet of foot and polite, the surroundings restful; and, should you come here, you may tell your friends back home in Chillicothe that you've dined in Chicago's famous Boston Oyster House.

The Boston Oyster House American

21 South Clark Street

Open for breakfast, luncheon and dinner

Table d'hote and a la carte — average prices

Maitresse d'hotel: Pearl Kuntz




1931 - 1931


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