When old-time Conchs (natives of Key West) talk about highlights of life decades ago on the southernmost dot of land in the Continental U.S., they often mention oysters and beer at the Raw Bar. A rowdy gathering place on the old waterfront, the Half Shell has become part of a “restaurant group” (along with the venerable A&B Lobster House, Turtle Kraals, and Bagatelle), but still it remains today what it has always been: an unvarnished taste of Island life. This is a restaurant with no air conditioning – the whole place is basically open-air, no tablecloths and little in the way of décor other than double-entendre vanity license plates and a few nautical-themed nick-nacks.
Nor are the culinary aspirations grandiose. There’s nothing better than a few plates of clams and oysters freshly opened and served on the half shell. If you hanker for something cooked, whatever fish are available that day can be had fried, grilled or broiled. The Floridian repertoire includes yellowtail, grouper, tuna, and red snapper. There are steamed crab and chilled crab, and lovely Key West pink shrimp by the half-pound and pound. When stone crab claws are available, you can have them, too, cracked open to yield their deliciously tender sweet meat. As far as seriously cooked food goes, there’s a good conch chowder always available, and conch fritters, too. You can get a fish sandwich or an oyster po’ boy, a cracked conch dinner with corn, potatoes, and cole slaw or – for the fish-frowner – a slab of baby back ribs.
Keep it simple, we say. The Half Shell Raw Bar is a place to come when you want fresh local seafood served in the raw without folderol … and with plenty of adult libations to wash it down. There are several outdoor decks and patios where visitors sit in the open air, absorbing sun and sea breezes; but the most colorful seats are actually at the semi-open-air bar, where the party never stops.
"The bar at the Half Shell is a Key West tradition. It's a great place to drink, but if you look closely at the menu towards the upper right, you'll also see important island food: conch chowder, conch fritters, and conch salad. And the raw oysters are fine."
"The Half Shell is located at Key West's old seaport. It used to be a shrimp-packing house."