- Jennifer Anderson
- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer to help you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: What old Portland restaurant includes, in its eccentric décor, a 2-foot geoduck from the 1970s preserved in formaldehyde?
A: The preserved geoduck - essentially a large saltwater clam - is just one of the unexpected wall ornaments that greets visitors at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, the 1907 establishment that bills itself as the oldest family-owned restaurant in Portland.
The nautical-themed eatery, 208 S.W. Ankeny St., is a time capsule of treasures and memorabilia from the original owner, Louis Wachsmuth, including everything from old photographs and newspaper articles to decorative plates, teacups, handmade model ships, fossilized oysters and an actual 1865 ship wheel from a shipwrecked vessel, curried from a man in a bar in California.
'I wish I knew more of the stories of the things on the walls,' says Ted Wachsmuth, one of Wachsmuth's two great-grandsons who now co-own and manage the place. 'They weren't all passed down to me.'
The restaurant celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, with many stories to tell about its early roots in Portland. As the story goes, Louis Wachsmuth grew up learning to shuck oysters on the family farm in Oysterville, Wash. - a coastal town at the tip of the state's Long Beach Peninsula.
When his father, Meinert Wachsmuth, retired and sold his oyster holdings in 1903, Louis followed his two older brothers to Portland, where he worked as a deliveryman, cook and oyster shucker before opening a wholesale and retail shop in 1907 at the restaurant's current location, serving oyster cocktails.
At the time, the sidewalk between Second and Third avenues on Ankeny were filled with boxes of live crabs and oysters in burlap sacks, which Louis had shipped by train from spots along the Oregon and Washington coast.
After Prohibition in the 1920s, Louis acquired a food bar from another saloon nearby and added oyster stew to his menu. As its popularity grew, he added several small dining rooms - including the one that resembles a ship's interior - adjacent to the bar.
So who's the Dan in the oyster bar's name? After one of Louis' sons, Dan, died of influenza in 1938, his name was added to the restaurant as a memorial.
Today the old wooden oyster bar still stands in the entryway, and Louis' great-grandsons, Ted and Keoni, run the place along with their father, Doug, who is acting chief financial officer. A fifth generation of oyster lovers stands in the waiting. Ted's 6-year-old son purportedly loves them and begs him to bring them home.
'He calls me the oyster king,' Ted says, noting that he never gets tired of the restaurant staples: oyster stew, pan-fried oysters and oysters Rockefeller. 'You either love 'em or hate 'em.'
Next week's Stumper: Sticking with the restaurant theme, what's the reason Huber's restaurant downtown started serving roast turkey in 1895 and continues the tradition today?