RIVER NORTH — Oysters, lobster rolls and Goose Island beer are the draw at Shaw's Oyster Fest Block Party on Friday.
As if that weren't enough, Buddy Guy is playing.
Now in its 25th year, the week-long celebration, culminating Friday in a parking lot on Rush Street between Hubbard and Illinois, is on track to be the biggest yet, with around 50,000 oysters to be shucked and slurped when all is done, said Steve Lahaie, managing partner of Shaw's Crab House.
The first Oyster Fest in 1988 was a one-day event inside Shaw's, 21 E. Hubbard St. Days and dinners were added through the years. The block party moved onto the street in front of the restaurant, then to a parking lot down the street and finally to its current lot around the corner.
At last year's finale, some 3,800 revelers ate 15,000 oysters, 600 orders of fried shrimp, 300 lobster rolls and 650 M Burger burgers, according to Lahaie.
The burgers were new last year.
New to the menu this year: smoked oysters, a contribution from Bub City chef Doug Psaltis.
A favorite event of Oyster Fest is the oyster-slurping contest. The winners of slurp-offs held this week at both Shaw's locations will compete Friday in a semifinal inside Shaw's. Five finalists, which will include last year's winner, will then face off at 7:30 p.m. Friday in front of the main crowd.
Many of the same faces return every year to try for the $1,000 prize.
"It's an oyster cult, I guess. There are four or five people that have won and they just rotate," Lahaie said.
Timothy Flynn, 45, is one of them. This will be his 20th Oyster Fest; he's won four times. The wine broker doesn't even live in Chicago anymore, but flies from his Austin, Texas, home to compete.
"You go for the glory. It's more about the bragging rights," said Flynn, who wears a kilt for good luck when slurping.
Of course, the seafood itself also keeps him coming back.
"Shaw's, hands down, is one of the finest seafood restaurants in the United States. I don't care if you're on the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast," Flynn said.
Blues legend Buddy Guy will take the stage at 8 p.m. after the contest. Lahaie lobbied hard to get Guy.
"Because it's our 25th annual, I really wanted somebody associated with Chicago and the blues. And oysters and the blues go well together," Lahaie said. "I was surprised we got him."