Wearley's Oyster House

Washington has had many notable seafood restaurants, including many oyster houses. In the 19th century, Chesapeake Bay oysters were abundant and cheap, constituting possibly the most common food item consumed in public caf├ęs and eating houses. The most famous oyster restaurant in Washington's history was undoubtedly Harvey's, which began before the Civil War and for many years stood just east of the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. However, Harvey's wasn't the only prominent oyster house, and today's postcard highlights another venerable favorite from the early decades of the 20th century.

Author's collection.
Oscar B. Wearley, a native of Crisfield, Maryland, opened Wearley’s Oyster House in 1898 near the corner of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. When the next-door Raleigh Hotel expanded in 1911, Wearley’s moved just to the north of it at 418 12th Street NW, doing a prosperous business there for nearly four decades.

In 1943, during the height of war-related food shortages, two enterprising reporters from the Washington Post conducted a less-than-scientific survey of the availability of beer in their Pennsylvania Avenue neighborhood, and they dropped into Wearley's:
Next stop was Wearley's Restaurant on Twelfth Street where we encountered a "one-beer-to-a-customer" rationing program. The manager was not optimistic. "Most of our meals are seafood," he said, "and a majority of persons seem to like beer with their meals. We have enough on hand to last until tomorrow and we have to ration that to insure continued food sales." Asked whether customers were content to have wine as a substitute, his reply was an emphatic "No!" Washington is not a wine-drinking town, he said.
Wearley's circa 1922, with competing oyster houses on both sides (Source: Library of Congress).

Postcard view of the interior of the Wearley's store (Author's collection).

In 1950, Wearley’s moved over to 516 North Capitol Street, close to Union Station, occupying a building that formerly housed the States Restaurant. It stayed in business in its new location well into the 1960s.

Matchbook cover from the original location (Author's collection).

Matchbook cover from the North Capitol Street location (Author's collection).


  1. John:

    Really enjoyed your talk on Washington's Seafood Restaurants at CHoW this past Sunday. And, what a great blog!

    Beverly Firme


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