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SHUCK & AWE: OYSTERFEST SLIPS INTO TOWN

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Sunday, foody Sunday: 2U, billed as the “World’s 2nd Best U2 Show,” headlines the outdoor stage at the first-ever Guinness Oysterfest in Red Bank on Sunday. (Photo ©Rob English)

By TOM CHESEK

It’s an often misunderstood mollusk — a briny aphrodisiac to some, a slippery turnoff to others. A nurturer of precious pearls, and yet hapless prey to otters and walruses and carpenters, who apparently have little patience for pearls and such.

But for nearly a week each September, and for more than 50 consecutive Septembers, the oyster has been celebrated, elevated to the most exalted standing (before being shucked and eaten), across the chilly pond in Galway, Ireland. Home to the annual Galway International Oyster Festival, it’s the place where the baywater bivalve is said to have been first washed down with the black brew that’s been called “the Irish aphrodisiac” — Guinness.

With the 2010 edition of that Irish institution set to commence its five-day run this Wednesday, Red Bank steps up as a “sister city” of sorts, when the borough plays host to its first-ever Only One Red Bank Guinness Oyster Festival on the afternoon and early evening of Sunday, September 26. Presented by the folks at Red Bank RiverCenter (and benefitting a pair of regional cancer treatment nonprofits) it’s a seven-hour fleadh of food, music and stout that commandeers the municipal parking lot at White Street — heart and hub of the downtown, and not coincidentally the big backyard of local landmark, The Dublin House.

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Guinness trucks will be pumping that sublime stout by the plus-size “pint” at Sunday’s Oyster Festival, with drink tickets available inside the borders of the festival area.

What’s that, you say? Hasn’t there already been a Guinness Oysterfest going on in Asbury Park for the past three years? And wasn’t I just at the 2010 event? And have I really spent the past week and a half sleeping with the feral cats beneath the old HoJo’s ramp?

While it’s true that Asbury boasts a similarly Guinness-branded event, the same can also be said for New York, Chicago, Cincinnati and many other big-league towns. With the Guinness people providing support (and dispatching fleets of pint-pumping beerwagons), the various festivals are produced and coordinated by such companies as Monmouth County-based RUEevents.

Still, as Dustin Racioppi reported here on redbankgreen in July, the Only One Red Bank event was designed to be a uniquely RB-centric affair, with RiverCenter executive director Nancy Adams saying that “Our goal is to have the food vendors be Red Bank restaurants…we would rather not have any other outsiders aside from the oyster vendors.”

Indeed, when the shell is shucked on Sunday’s inaugural Red Bank event, some 25 sought-after restaurants — every one of them located within borough borders — will be represented in the festival area, serving a variety of specialty menu items, including everything from mini-Reubens to seared tuna. The Highlands-based seafood purveyor Lusty Lobster will be on premises as well, serving up tons of fresh oysters, clams and Maine lobster rolls.

The Red Bank roster runs a gamut of tastes that encompasses pizza and other Italian specialties, as well as American favorites, Continental fare, Mexican standouts and other culinary eclectica — including, of course, seafood, courtesy of The Boondocks Fishery, Danny’s Steak House and other destination dining spots (an incomplete list of participating restaurants can be seen here).

Of course, being a GUINNESS Oysterfest, the event won’t be lacking for that sublime stout — and with the Guinness name and logo so prominent in the proceedings, festivalgoers are naturally curious about the involvement of one historic Public House in particular. Rest assured, The Dub is the pub of the hour, with a catbird perch on the parking-lot action, and a staff that’s gearing up for an extended day of celebration.

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The White Street parking lot — soon to be transformed into the Guinness Oyster Festival grounds — as seen from high atop the neighboring Dub. (photo by Dustin Racioppi)

Although he maintains that “all good things happen by accident” when musing about the first fortuitous pairing of Guinness and oysters, there’s nothing accidental about Sean Dunne‘s happy proximity to the festival. According to the Dublin House co-owner, he and business partner Eugene Devlin “had the idea to bring the Guinness Festival to Red Bank, and to do it at the same time as the one in Galway.”

Having inquired directly to Guinness on the matter, the Dub duo were put in touch with Ruthanne Harrison of RUEevents, producer of the Asbury Park fest — and, as Dunne adds, “RiverCenter got involved from there, and really smoothed it over, really made it happen.”

The bivalve bash boasts a fairly eclectic musical menu, on two stages — with the brew of Irish styles and rock sounds coming to a head in toplined act 2U — the “World’s 2nd Best U2 Show,” and a band of sought-after sound-alikes (they also pull off a fairly deft look-alike angle) who recently finished an extended engagement entertaining the crowds at Walt Disney World.

Also on tap in the sounds department are the Irish/Celtic show band Padraig Allen and McLean Avenue (a combo whose members have worked with everyone from The Clancy Brothers to Black 47), longtime Shore partystarters Brian Kirk & The Jirks, local bluesrocker Robert Ender, and national-act collaborators Peter Karp and Sue Foley (d.b.a. He Said She Said). Take it here for a detailed schedule.

The Only One Red Bank Guinness Oyster Festival runs “rain or shine” from noon until 7p Sunday, with an admission charge of $5.00 for anyone over 13 years old, and drink tickets for “Imperial pints” of Guinness available to attendees of imbibing age. Proceeds will be dedicated to the Booker Cancer Center at  Riverview Medical Center, to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and to RiverCenter’s ongoing advertising and marketing campaigns.

Immediately following the outdoor event, the Dublin House is inviting festivalgoers to continue the fun with a “better late than never” Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Party, featuring more music by McLean Avenue (who helped the Dub celebrate its grand re-opening last year) from 8p onward.

“Guinness and oysters go hand in hand, and we’re wishing everyone well, hoping they raise lots of money,” says Dunne. “This is the first year, and we’re looking to hopefully grow it into a successful thing each year. Even if it rains, it’s not going to dampen our spirits.”

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
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