There’s a new bar in Newcastle. And it’s not just for cocktails, though beer and wine are served.
The River Bottom Raw Bar opened last week. It features a variety of fresh oysters from farmers on the Damariscotta River.
On Aug. 14, owner Brendan Parsons was there welcoming customers and sharing his vast knowledge about local oysters and their production. On that day, seven different brands of oysters were being featured: Glidden Point, Mook Sea Farm, Norumbega, Pemaquid, John’s River, Otter Cove and Dodge Cove Marine.
Parsons grew up in Damariscotta, where he got his start in the food business working for a local catering company, Seacoast Catering. A raw bar was included in many of its gigs, and Parsons spent a lot of time shucking oysters. He worked at an oyster farm during high school at Lincoln Academy, then went to the University of Maine in Orono, where he graduated with a degree in economics and renewable energy, both of which have proven to be of value in his chosen field.
After college, Parsons said he “did a little stint and the ski bum thing out West” before moving back to the East Coast in 2015 and starting a business, a raw bar in the form of a mobile food cart, called BP's Shuck Shack, in Portland. That business is still going strong, he said. “It’s my third summer there, and I’ve been able to grow with other professionals in similar ventures. It’s easy to do what I’m doing, because it’s something I enjoy.
“I especially love this business because I’m from here, and primarily all of my oysters are from this river.”
Oysters are a big and growing business these days. “People are getting educated about oysters, and learning what they like and what they don’t like,” Parsons said. “There used to be one basic option, and you had to work with it. Now there’s a variety of oysters, and we’re paying homage to the growers here.”
The oysters, beer and wine will be served at the bar and at benches in the bar area, and there are picnic tables with oyster-colored umbrellas outside. Different oysters will be offered daily, and people can pick and choose each one they’d like to try. The “Taste of the River” is a selection of three different ones that will change frequently.
The staff at the bar is knowledgeable about oysters, too. Parsons said each one has either worked or volunteered at an oyster farm, so they have hands-on experience, and can convey knowledge and expertise to the customers.
Parsons said he’s offering an educational experience as well as a taste of oysters. Most of the farmers he represents have graduated from college with high degrees, and they’re coming back and doing this work because it’s important to them.
An oyster filters between 30 and 50 gallons of water daily, and Parsons said the cold, clean water of the Damariscotta River makes the oysters unique and special. “This river is known as one of the cleanest rivers on the eastern seaboard.”
The menu features a map, or chart, of the river, indicating where each farm is located. Along with the raw bar, the space includes an oyster distribution business, from the farmers to restaurants, and a retail area for customers to purchase oysters to take home. The raw bar will be offering some baked oysters and bites, too, with new menu options being added daily.
The business is located at 68 Main Street, in a brick building that used to house a garage-gas station. It has been entirely renovated into a clean, modern space, just right for a raw oyster bar.
Parsons said he is trying to do “anything and everything oysters.” He has leased a section of the river for raising his own bivalves, Blackstone Point Oysters. They’re in the beginning stages – not market-size yet, but will be full-grown and ready for tasting next year. Stay tuned.
A grand opening is planned for Saturday, Aug. 19. Call 207-682-0129 for more information.