Feb 6, 2019

At the Oasis: Perch for sure, but also liver and onions, gray walls, porch chops (but no porch) and breakfast

Oasis bar in Bay City
Oasis sign, with wrong phone number
The hairy guy's report:

On a biting-cold day, with much of the city huddled indoors, we figured a bar would be the perfect oasis. So what better than one called the Oasis?

It turns out, according to recent sad research, that among the expected effects of climate change is a worldwide shortage (and doubling in cost) of beer. Heat and drought, it seems, will heavily cut into production of barley, and things spiral downhill from there. Talk about wanting to cry in your beer ...

Excess heat, though, wasn't on our mind on this day. Beer was. And in contrast with bars where the many options on tap require time to make a studied decision, the Oasis made it simple.

Just three beers were on tap -- Busch Light, Bud Light and Michelob Amber Bock. A fourth tap was dry, awaiting something. (Drafts are $2.50 a mug, $3.50 for a large Pilsner glass. A cooler holds a few offerings -- Stella Artois, O'Doul's, Labatt Blue among them -- at $3 each.) Wine (red or white) is $3.50.

The Oasis -- which appears in city directories at least as far back as 1935 ("founded by Eddie & Florence Syring over 50 years ago," the menu says) -- carried on until one morning in February 2017 when a kitchen fire brought a hasty end to breakfast in the South End.

After closing for a bit more than a year for a substantial rebuilding, it reopened in March 2018, but at first with limited hours and no liquor license. It's now open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 8
Roxy behind the bar at the Oasis
Roxy behind the bar at the Oasis
p.m. (9 p.m. Fridays), with alcohol and a palm tree logo, a welcome sight on a wintry day.

Roxy, the friendly, welcoming afternoon bartender, admits the Oasis lost many customers during the closure. "A lot of people found other places to go," she says. On two afternoons, the place was deserted.

But the Friday perch dinners have a loyal following. And the breakfast special is still $3.99. "Haven't changed the price in 20 years," she says.

The disruption lingers, though. The sign out front still shows an old phone number, which is disconnected. (The real one is 989-778-2660).

Perhaps worse for business these days, the Oasis ended up with as many Facebook pages as beers on tap -- "Oasis Lounge" (which also has the old phone number), "Oasis Restaurant and Lounge" and "The Oasis Lounge" (which is the up-to-date one).

(And a tip: If you go looking on Facebook, you might instead end up at the Oasis Lounge is Gander, Newfoundland; the Oasis Hookah Lounge in Las Vegas; the Oasis Lounge in Mt. Morris, Mich.; the Oasis restaurant in Crystal City, Texas; or the Oasis Cafe & Restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh.)

The Oasis -- the one at Kosciuszko (a.k.a. 22nd) and Lincoln -- was often called the Dirty O before its 2017 fire. Roxy says that was because of the long-ago biker clientele that got into fights
Oasis interior
Austere interior
over a pool table. We've heard others use that nickname referring to the previous dingy interior.

Now, since rebuilding, nothing is at all dingy. It's all very clean, though austere (or "plain," as Mrs. Hairy Guy put it) would also be accurate. It's nothing you'd call warm or homey (and the pool table is long gone). Only things on the expanse of gray walls were a Christmas wreath, a couple of small Valentine items and a strange doodle-able item near the front door. Some posters or whatever would help, for starters.

And the only TV in the place has a video ailment, showing a bunch of black lines on the screen. Roxy mentioned that another TV behind the bar would be nice; we agree.

But since coming back from the sooty dead, the rebuilt kitchen is turning out some good food.

A Wednesday buffet special ($6.99) included fried fish, ribs, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac and cheese, the salad bar and a few other things.

The next day, with the weather still way too cold for comfort, the liver and onions with bacon
Oasis liver and onions
Liver and onions at the Oasis
sounded inviting. And this isn't any old liver, according to the menu; it's "Omaha center cut liver," with potatoes and gravy and the salad bar for $7.99.

Let's face it: If you don't like liver, you won't like it. (Mrs. Hairy Guy, who calculates that she last tried liver 65 years ago, agreed to not move to another table when it arrived.) But if you like liver, you'll love it.

Besides assorted fish offerings, burgers (a basic quarter-pound hamburger is $5.99), sandwiches, salads, wings and nachos, the menu includes "porch chop dinner," which is clearly a typo for pork chop.

But you never know, so we Googled "porch chop" and got 5,820 results -- many of them in fact pork chops. Among them is also a YouTube video of a kid doing impressive yo-yo tricks. Another video is a full five minutes of baby giggling sounds amid video of blurry red and white splotches. It's up to six views since being posted in 2016 and has no obvious porch chop connection. And a cat named Porch Chop was up for adoption in Colorado.

The Oasis (which doesn't have an actual porch) offers one pork chop for $6.95, two for $7.95, either with mashed potatoes and gravy. A salad bar offered cole slaw, potato salad, cauliflower,
Manhattan at Oasis
Empty beer, full Manhattan
beets and pasta salad, along with lettuce and the like.

Back at the bar, it was time for our standard request: a Manhattan. Considering the bare-bones supply of alcohol, we expected a polite nope.

Instead, lacking vermouth, Roxy made an ersatz version with Cabernet wine and grenadine, along with Kessler's whiskey, for $4.50. In fairness, she explained beforehand what she was going to do. We agreed and drank it, though we wouldn't do it again.

The thin bar selection includes, oddly, a bottle of Hershey's chocolate syrup. Roxy says that was for her version of a Christmas Cookie cocktail -- vanilla vodka, Kahlua, butterscotch schnapps and Bailey's, with a drizzle of the chocolate syrup in the glass. Maybe next year.

We asked if there's a happy hour. "Just me," she said.

See Doc’s report: Back from the ashes, the Oasis serves up memories (along with its food and drinks) in the South End

  The particulars:
  Oasis Restaurant & Lounge
  1913 Kosciuszko (22nd)

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