503-227-5906, 208 SW Ankeny St, Portland
The sidewalk between 2nd and 3rd on Ankeny Street was stacked with boxes of live crabs. It was 1907, and Louis C. Wachsmuth was carting them inside to the big, briny crab pot. Oysters, shrimp, live lobsters from the East, and all kinds of fish were handled in carload lots. Dealing in seafood was nothing new for Louis. He grew up working with his father and brothers on the family oyster farm in Oysterville, Washington. Louis’ father, Meinert Wachsmuth, was born on the Isle of Sylt, off the coast of Denmark in 1842. At the age of 14, Meinert stowed away on an ocean-going vessel and wound up shipping before the mast for nearly ten years. He sailed around the Horn seven times before settling down to work the trade route between San Francisco, CA, and the oyster rich bays of Oregon and Washington. Meinert decided to end his maritime career when he was shipwrecked at Yaquina Bay, OR, aboard the schooner Annie Doyle in 1865. In 1869, Meinert married Elizabeth Sullivan and moved to Oysterville. He and his bride were blessed with three sons, Harry, Theodore, and Louis before they returned to San Francisco in 1881 to set up their own business. Louis learned to shuck oysters the next year at the age of five and developed a lifelong curiosity about the succulent bivalves while growing up along the shores of Shoalwater Bay.
Meinert retired and sold his entire oyster holdings in 1903. Louis followed his older brothers Harry and Theodore to Portland, OR. He worked as a deliveryman, cook, and oyster shucker before opening a wholesale and retail seafood store called Oregon Oyster, serving oyster cocktails. In 1919, with advent of prohibition, Louis acquired the food bar from the famous Merchant’s Saloon formerly located on 1st and Ankeny. It was then he decided that a piping hot oyster stew would be a tasty addition to his tiny menu and the company name was changed to Louis’ Oyster Bar. Soon the old bar could not accommodate the growing number of hungry customers, and Louis built several small dining rooms adjacent to the bar. Seating for larger parties was provided when the “Main” dining room with its distinctive sailing ship interior was built in 1937. The opening of the “Reserve” dining room with the ship shaped kitchen “Star of Oregon” followed in 1940. In 2017, the fourth generations of Wachsmuths made some changes to the “Reserve”. The name was changed to the “Galley” and windows were added. The “Star of Oregon” was replaced with a larger kitchen and bar seating to view the cooks while they worked. The outside of the bar was covered with copper obtained from Berbati’s Pan Restaurant, a famous night club that was across the street from the Oyster Bar for many years.
Louis and his wife Elizabeth Sauer were married in 1908. Their children grew up with the business, but tragedy struck in February of 1938. After the family seemed to have recovered from a dangerous strain of influenza, Dan, the second eldest son, suddenly died from complications of the illness. He was 27 years old and an integral part of the family’s future plans. Dan’s name was added to “Louis’ Oyster Bar” as a memorial. The oldest son, Louis Arthur, worked long and hard to help fill the void left by the death of his brother. Younger son, Chester, was still in school and didn’t join the firm on a full-time basis until after his military service in 1945. Grandpa Louis died in 1957, and his sons Louis A. and Chester continued the family business until passing it on to their sons, Louis John and Doug, in 1977. In 1991, Doug became the sole owner of the business and operated it with the help of his wife, Joyce, his brother Tuck (Chester Jr), and his son Theodore. In 1997, Doug’s other son, Meinert (Keoni) and his wife, Michelle, joined the team to help run the family business. Tuck and Ted left the business to pursue other dreams, and in 2013, Doug passed the Oyster Bar on to Keoni and Michelle. Together they continue the tradition of family ownership, and hope to pass the Portland landmark on to their children, Louis Kai, Elizabeth Hana, and Dan Kaleo, in future years.