After 35 years serving up fresh seafood, Shaw’s Crab House can deservedly be referred to as a Chicago institution. But places with that kind of pedigree don’t usually end up high on the list when you’re looking for a carefree night out. October is Oyster Fest at Shaw’s, which would seem to imply that there’s some capacity for partying. While the main dining area does carry an air of sophistication (complete with a sign proclaiming the need for proper attire), step into the adjoining Oyster Bar and you’ll be where the party happens — we stopped by on a recent night to check out the scene.

In the Oyster Bar, the lights are bright and the crowd is lively. The wraparound center bar was packed with dozens of people hanging out sipping drinks and slurping oysters. The mollusks are shucked for you right at the bar, with some dozen different varieties available on any given day. But you’re not limited to just oysters. The Oyster Bar menu offers many of the dishes available in the dining room, so you can still nosh on a $100 platter of Alaskan king crab legs while wearing a t-shirt and jeans. You can also partake in one of more than a dozen signature cocktails, a plentiful beer selection, and assorted wines and sakes.

The Oyster Bar hosts live music three nights a week, and features a happy hour menu every day from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oyster Fest also offers up a bunch of limited-time specials, including roaming shuckers who perform tableside shucking and education, Sunday oyster roasts and fried chicken dinners, and a large selection of creative oyster small plates. The Fest runs through the end of October (the finale is a day-long happy hour event), but even when it’s over, the fun doesn't stop at the Oyster Bar.