St. Louis Standards: Broadway Oyster Bar is a Food and Music Institution | Food and Beverage News | St. Louis | St. Louis News and Events
When Steve Sullivan and his business partner, Mark Goldenberg, bought the iconic Broadway Oyster Bar (736 South Broadway, 314-621-8811) in 2019, they realized they were now responsible for not just a restaurant and bar, but a piece of St. Louis history. Seeing themselves as stewards, the couple had no plans for drastic changes to the place; however, Sullivan realized how sacred that commitment was when he tried to fix one of the bathroom doors and was met with resistance.
“When we first bought it, I was visiting with the previous owner and noticed a crack in one of the bathroom doors,” Sullivan says. “I told him we could see through and I was going to have to change at the door. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re not going to change anything.’ So I put a poster on the door to cover the crack. Would I be stupid to come in and change things?”
Sullivan knew little had changed at the Broadway Oyster Bar since its founding in 1978, but what struck him on his first visits to the place was the extent of what has remained untouched since construction. of the building in the 1840s. As he proudly notes, every brick his patrons see was there before the Civil War, and if those bricks could talk, they would have colorful stories of the building’s many iterations as a boarding house, store of records, laundry and brothel. He even insists that the place has three ghosts, including that of a 14-year-old girl, hanging around the front of the restaurant.
Hauntings aside, the building seemed like the perfect place to open a bar when Soulard’s character Bob Burkhardt founded the Broadway Oyster Bar 44 years ago. Considered by many to be the founder of the city’s nightlife (in addition to the Broadway Oyster Bar, he’s responsible for bringing places such as Molly’s and BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups to life), Burkhardt opened the oyster bar as a discreet and quirky bar. gathering place with a menu as eclectic as it is small – for years the only food served at the place was oysters, boiled eggs and canned sardines.
The menu began to take on its Cajun inflection after Burkhardt sold the bar to Dennis Connolly, who began cooking okra, beans, and rice, along with a handful of the establishment’s current staples. The place then changed hands several times – Connolly sold it to someone who then sold it to Joe Farrell and Steve Wulf, who ran the place until it was bought by John and Vicky Johnson in 1997. According to Sullivan, the Johnson era was when food offerings – and music – grew and took the shape of what people know today.
“Really, the place as we know it started under Jack and Vicky, and their executive chef, Brad Hagen,” says Sullivan. “He’s the one who people say took the menu to the next level.”
According to Mary Moramarco, longtime Broadway Oyster Bar employee and general manager, the Johnsons were also instrumental in transforming the venue into the vibrant live music venue it is today. Prior to their ownership, the spot featured strictly jazz, blues, and zydeco bands. Once the Johnsons took over, guests could hear any style of music under the sun — and seven days a week, at that.
“It’s not the biggest venue, but bands love to play here because they’re close to their fans,” says Moramarco. “You could say that when they’re on stage, it’s a lot of fun.”
Moramarco, who has worked at the Broadway Oyster Bar for 21 years, understands that people come for the great food, upbeat music and vibrant atmosphere. However, she sees the key to her success as something that transcends these factors. As she explains, the bar has a relaxed atmosphere – one in which patrons feel they can be themselves without judgement. She also highlights the diversity of the crowd as a major strength and is proud that people from all walks of life can come as they are and feel comfortable.
Sullivan echoes his sentiments.
“The thing is, I can look at all of our tables and see all of the St. Louis games,” Sullivan said. “We have such a diverse crowd, and everyone has a great time together. It was one of the most appealing things about the place when I bought it.”
Sullivan believes the strength of Broadway Oyster Bar is that it is an inclusive community gathering place. That’s why when the pandemic hit not even a year after he bought the restaurant and bar, he had serious concerns about how he could continue to operate in a world of meeting with strangers around. a beer and music was no longer possible. However, he never really considered whether or not such a meaningful place for the St. Louis community would survive, and was encouraged by the influx of regular guests who showed up at the restaurant’s back door to order take away food or just call to check on bar staff. It made him realize how lucky he is to be part of the historic fabric of the city and why he is committed to maintaining such an iconic location for years to come.
“I was born and raised in St. Louis, and it’s a landmark that I wanted to make sure was well taken care of,” Sullivan said. “I’m very proud to tell people that I didn’t mess up. I didn’t change anything; it’s a legacy, and I’ll try to pass it on somewhere down the road better than I got it. – not that there’s a lot of wiggle room to make it better than it is.”
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