For a city so intimately tied to the sea, Victoria has surprisingly few seafood-dedicated restaurants.
There are definitely some fantastic casual situations (Red Fish Blue Fish and Finest At Sea immediately jump to mind). And the recent opening of white-table-clothed “Marilena” undeniably raised the bar for fine dining-focused seafood in the city. But a laid-back place for a casual dinner or somewhere to meet with friends for delicious oysters and a cold pint of beer? That’s something first-time restaurant owner Jess Taylor felt has been missing – and the time has finally come for him to do something about it.
Though new to running a restaurant, Taylor’s reputation in Victoria’s seafood scene is well-established thanks to his popular catering venture, “Wandering Mollusk Oyster Co”. Over the past nine years, the Wandering Mollusk has become a go-to for fresh oysters, ready-to-roll seafood boil buckets, and pop-up events. He’s also been a fixture at Whistle Buoy Brewing in Market Square for the last several years, where guests coming in for a beer could order oysters freshly shucked by Taylor himself.
In many ways, a brick-and-mortar setup has been a foregone conclusion, just waiting for the right location to come along. The perfect opportunity finally arose earlier this year in a historic four-storey brick building on the corner of Blanshard and Johnson Streets. At this very moment, work is underway to transform 1324 Blanshard St. (previously Shine Cafe and, before that, Demitasse) into Shuck Taylor’s Oyster Bar.
I recently met with Taylor at his new Victoria space to take a look around and hear about his plans…
“I’m so lucky to have this space,” Taylor says, looking around the room (he finally found this address after a few others had fallen through). As Taylor describes it, he knew immediately that this was the place for him, but he wanted it so badly that he resisted saying it out loud to anyone because he was afraid of getting too attached and being let down.
When I asked him if it felt surreal when the deal finally went through, Taylor explained: “Maybe for a minute; but mostly, it just felt good. It felt right. It felt like everything I had been doing up until this point was for a reason – all the highs and lows, the hits and misses – everything was leading me to this. It was time. Not because I pushed it, just because it was right.” He gave himself “about 30 seconds to enjoy that feeling” and then jumped right into the reality of cleaning, repairing, and setting things up.
During my visit last month (late June), work was underway, and the space was all ladders, drywall dust and electrical cords. Despite the ‘construction zone clutter’, Taylor’s vision for Shuck Taylor’s was loud and clear: a vibrant place with an aesthetic somewhere between “casually polished” and “nautical dive bar”, where the simplicity of oysters (and seafood in general) will be celebrated in a “Come As You Are” environment (Taylor even intends to have this inviting message emblazoned on the front door).
When it opens, Shuck Taylor’s will have 50 seats, as a mix of table, window and bar seating. The twelve seats along the bar – likely to be the most sought-after in the house – will offer a front-row view of the shucking station. “I knew I wanted a stage for the oysters, so we reimagined what was a ‘breakfast nook’ into a big open bar where guests will be able to watch shucking going on. We’ll also have a large custom-built oyster bed to display our daily range of varietals.”
While oysters will be the star of the show, Shuck Taylor’s will also offer a solid selection of other seafood-based dishes (expect steamed clams, moules frites, grilled oysters, po boys, lobster rolls, and tinned fish). Behind the bar, there will be beer (four taps to start, all from Brewers Row in Port Moody), as well as wine and a few cocktails (I’m particularly looking forward to trying out the ‘Fish House Punch’, a rum-based concoction from the Eastern United States that sounds like an especially good time).
This week, contractors will sign off on their work – and from there onwards it’s all about finishing touches, menu testing and staffing. If all goes smoothly, doors will open next month.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Victoria in late August/early September, put Shuck Taylor’s on your list of cool places to visit. In the meantime, take a look at the ‘under construction’ photos below…