If the World Is My Oyster, Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford Just Might Be The Pearl!

August 13. 2018

Hot and wet is the basic story of summer in Connecticut this year. Lately, rain has been a constant feature in our weather. Fortunately, I found a break in the weather pattern Friday afternoon and ventured down to West Hartford to visit the Happy Hour at Max’s Oyster Bar. (As an aside, I hate I-84 so I took the supposedly longer way through Windsor and Bloomfield and avoided some nasty traffic.)

Max’s Oyster Bar is located at 964 Farmington Ave. West in West Hartford Center, which means parking can be a challenge. I followed recommendations and parked in the Brace Road public parking lot. It cost me $2.25 for a little less than 1.5 hours. It was also easy get in and out without traffic issues.

The fourth restaurant opened by Richard Rosenthal’s Max Restaurant Group. Max’s Oyster Bar launched in 1999 and has apparently never looked back. Having had friends go there and rave about it, I decided it was time for The Dark Diva to do a bar review, especially since I love shellfish. For a variety of reasons, I opted to evaluate the Friday Happy Hour, since it both marks the end of the week for many folks and sets the tone for their weekend. By that standard, ending your week at Max’s Oyster Bar should assure a stellar weekend.

The Simple Things Make The Biggest Difference

I arrived a few minutes early and found a seat at the bar, which was still fairly full, apparently from a late lunch crowd. Alysa, who would be my bartender, brought me a Happy Hour menu and explained that Happy Hour would be starting in just a few minutes, so I informed her I would wait. In reviewing any bar, the bartender really sets the entire mood for your visit, good or bad. Fortunately, Alysa was spot on in making sure that I was served efficiently without long waits and always with a smile. (It was an important reason for the rating I gave Max’s Oyster Bar — you would be surprised at how often those simple keys are totally missed by some supposedly high-end bars.)

A Menu Made To Order

Cool, refreshing and pleasantly different, the $5 Happy Hour Pom Margarita was a nice choice to start my Happy Hour!

While perhaps not overly large, the Happy Hour menu is easy to navigate and offers a number of appealing options at the prevalent $5 price-point with a few exceptions, like 3 oysters on the half-shell for $4, buck a shuck clams and a $4 oyster shooter. It includes mixed drinks, beer and wine plus selections from the raw bar, oyster bar classics, snacks and street tacos. As a mixologist, I naturally gravitated to the $5 mixed drink selections, choosing a Pom Margarita (El Jimador tequila, lime juice and pomegranate juice). It was quite tasty, albeit maybe a bit sweet (as to be expected with pomegranate juice), but still a very enjoyable way to start my weekend.

I had been too busy eating my oysters (they were very good and I was hungry), so that I had to hurry up and grab this shot right before the plate got replaced by the calamari (which is why it’s bit blurred).

For my first course, I chose the 3 for $4 oysters which arrived with horseradish sauce and disappeared in a blur (I love oysters and I was quite hungry). The oysters were of decent size and appealing quality. I followed up with an order of Point Judith calamari, which was lightly fried with hot peppers and served with both a red sauce and a white sauce. Being something of a calamari connoisseur (I love calamari and have tried it all throughout New England as well as outside the region), I found this version to be delicious. In fact, the calamari disappeared almost as fast as the oysters. (Sadly, neither Happy Hour dish was around long enough for me to take a decent picture. Haha!)

The Max Manhattan was a good choice with a nice smoothness as the sweet vermouth and orange bitters perfectly mellowed the taste of the whiskey.

Upon finishing the Pom Margarita, I opted to try a Max Manhattan (Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Dolin sweet vermouth and orange bitters). Part of my rationale for selecting this particular drink was that I had never tried a Manhattan before. This was an excellent introduction with just the right amount of sweetness to temper the whiskey.

The Best Ambiance Includes Smiles and Conversation

Even though I was at the very end of a long, busy bar, there were enough bartenders so that Alysa could give those of us at my end the attention we deserved. She never gave the impression of being harried, overwhelmed or anything except a readiness to take care of our needs with a smile.

Speaking of smiling, I also judge a Happy Hour (and bars in general) on the friendliness of their customers. If people are willing to say hello and maybe strike up some basic conversation, I consider that a tribute to the type of people the bar/Happy Hour attracts. And I wound up talking to a number of folks at my end of the bar.

Over a little less than 1.5 hours, I had a very pleasant Happy Hour experience while enjoying two not-so-common mixed drinks, fresh oysters on the half-shell, some excellent calamari and some good conversation at a total cost before tip of $20.20. Not bad at all.


Max’s Oyster Bar Happy Hour earns my highest rating as being ***UNIQUELY RECOMMENDED*** for its excellent service, delicious Happy Hour menu with good value and overall ambiance. It’s definitely worth a trip to West Hartford to check it out. Their Happy Hours are 4-6pm Monday-Saturday and 3-6pm Sunday. You can find their menus, directions and more on their web site at maxrestaurantgroup.com/oyster.

Tell them The Dark Diva sent you!

An Inspired Dark Diva Is A Dangerous Thing

It’s not often that I find myself truly inspired by somebody else’s drink recipe. While I have developed a number of popular pomegranate martini recipes on my own, none of them had started with tequila.

Meet the Dark Diva Twisted POM-arita-tini! It was inspired by the Pom Margarita I had at Max’s Oyster Bar during my visit on Friday, naturally with a few lethal Dark Diva twists! In a glass or shaker with ice, mix:

• 1.0 oz. Jose Cuervo Especial® Silver Tequila
• 0.25 oz. Skyy Infusions® Citrus Vodka
• 0.25 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
• 3.0 oz. POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

After mixing, strain into a chilled martini glass and enjoy (carefully). Cheers!

Want to live over the edge? Hide your keys and get ready to tango with the dark side with The Twisted Tango POM-arita-tini AKA The Aztec Death Wish! First, make out a will and leave any valuables to me. (Hey, you can’t blame a girl for trying.) Next, in a glass or shaker with ice, mix:

As you may have noticed, I don’t just push the envelope. Oh, hell no, I like to shred it!

• 1.0 oz. Jose Cuervo Especial® Silver Tequila
• 0.5 oz. Patrón Citrónge® Extra Fine Mango Liqueur
• 0.25 oz. Skyy Infusions® Citrus Vodka
• 0.25 oz. Wild Moon® Lime Liqueur
• 3.0 oz. POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

Strain into a chilled martini glass, arrange pillows on floor to cushion your fall and enjoy! Cheers!

Here’s to Your Health:
How The Gin & Tonic Helped Fight Malaria

Say what? That’s right, back in the 1800’s when the British Empire stretch practically around the world, lending credence to the term “The sun never sets on the British Empire,” malaria was the scourge of the British military and civilians in the more tropical regions. While quinine had been discovered to be an excellent preventative as well as a cure, it was extremely bitter. Though it was mixed with tonic water, people hated the taste so much they’d rather take their chances with malaria.

Based on a very simple recipe, the gin and tonic is a classic drink, especially for summer. At the same time, I like to try it with different gins, and add liqueurs like Wild Moon(R) Cucumber for something uniquely refreshing.

Then a remarkable thing happened. Since gin was extremely popular with the British, someone came up with idea of mixing it with the heavily quinine-laced tonic water to produce a much more palatable means of getting people to take their quinine. The addition of the lime comes from the Royal Navy which always carried limes to help fight scurvy among its sailors (which accounts for how “limey” became a slang term for a British sailor and later the British in general). The Royal Navy had discovered earlier that lime helped improve the taste of the quinine tonic water, so it was natural to keep it when they added the gin. And this is how the gin and tonic we know today was created. (Today, however, there is virtually no quinine in tonic water.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take my medicine! Cheers!

NOTE: I had originally planned to talk about Chartreuse Liqueur in this post, but I have some more things to check out first. I’ll let you know when it’s posted.

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