Undiscovered New Paltz: Oasis Cafe

Muffled sounds stay hidden behind a whitewashed wooden door, but as soon as the door opens the sound of a live blues jam band reverberates through this dimly lit sanctuary. There stands broad-shouldered Jahmaine Fergus, 22, of New Paltz, in his familiar red t-shirt. Underage drinkers fidget around in their purses, locating their fake IDs to hand to Fergus. They eagerly wait for him to give permission to enter the bar or not. Once they get past that, this laidback and inviting place becomes a haven.

Hidden from New Paltz’s Main Street, a concentration of small kitschy storefronts and restaurants, is Oasis Café/Katana Sake Bar. White Christmas lights illuminate neatly lined-up liquor bottles at the main bar which serves the basics: an assortment of domestic and imported beers on tap, rum, bourbon, tequila, vodka and so on. Katana Sake Bar is residential to bottles of imported sake and cleverly-named mixed drinks like ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot,’ named for a Flaming Lips song. Quirky and eclectic artwork of inspiring literature, including “Fear and Loathing” by Hunter S. Thompson and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, is placed on the sand adobo walls. Lush drinkers hang out on the faded black-and-white checkered floors by the pinball machine and a pool table for 25-cent games.

Background music at the start of the night soon transitions into louder live music. Conversation becomes more intimate, since you are inches away from a person’s face, able to hear what they are saying.

Like the island of the worn-in, vintage and relaxed couches, Oasis isn’t too polished. And, that’s exactly the way owner Bobby Downs wants it to be. He doesn’t want it to be perfect and prefers to give it a dingy and grunge-kind of edge.  Downs uses a different kind of philosophy when it comes to managing Oasis.

“It has to do with the fact that it’s not profit-driven like the other bars in town, it’s attitude-driven and that’s what makes it special,” says Downs. “My philosophy is that a bar shouldn’t be too clean, too corporate. It diminishes the shared experiences among the owner, employees and patrons.”

What also sets Oasis apart from the other bars in town is that almost every penny is given to that night’s band. It may be ludicrous to most bar owners, but, at Oasis, Downs feels that it is an investment made towards their future, increasing the chances for innumerable genuine experiences.

“The feeling of ownership by the band, by the bar back, the bartenders, the patron should live beyond just the four walls of this place.”

“People will meet here and get married and later on think about that time. They are taking a little part of them and hopefully not the bar glasses,” chuckled Downs.

At Oasis, out-of-the-ordinary instances are always stirring. There is never a dull moment. Five months ago, a naked guy ended up on the dance floor. Bartenders and bouncers watched for a couple of seconds before they decided how to apprehend the nudist. On New Year’s Eve, fireworks were set off inside. Anything you can think of happening has probably happened here.

The existing cool crowd is a plethora of laidback hippies, yuppies, college student hipsters and older townies with pony tails and facial hair. Everybody is relaxed here, with the help of booze, of course. Nobody is here to judge what you are wearing or how you are dancing.

For Gulin Ciloglu, 23, a graduate student from Turkey, Oasis has become her second home. She often retreats here for the live music and also plays on open mic nights with her band, Sekanjabin, named after a Persian drink.

“When I walk outside, everybody is friendly here and says ‘hi.’,” said Ciloglu. “After they notice that I am a foreigner, conversation pursues and it makes it even more attractive to be here when meeting new friends.”

For many, Oasis is a place of comfort, retreat and salvage from the tribulations of life.  It’s easy to lose track of time here. Coming here is a routine, a pulse. Regulars are not just a familiar face in the crowd; they become tight knit, almost like family, to the employees of Oasis. It’s all about good times and good vibe, according to Jackson Salend, a bartender.

“There is so much more comraderie here, we’re all similar and share common interests,” said Salend. “This atmosphere allows us to be relaxed, friendly and open-minded.”

“I can’t recall any job where you want to go there to hang out when you aren’t working,” said Salend. “Everybody here is friends first and co-workers second.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kathy Kim is an employee of Oasis Café.

The overlook at Route 229 is a bastion for local sightseeing. To your left is the SUNY New Paltz campus, and off in the far distance are the Catskill Mountains. Monica Bachmann reports.

The view from Springtown Truss Bridge is akin to something out of an 1800s Hudson Valley painting. Devon Pope reports.

Season after season, there’s rarely a dull day at Dressel Farms. Adam Shanks reports.

Meet the “prisoners” of the “dungeon” at Sojourner Truth Library. Andrew Limbong reports.

Hidden within the Smiley Arts Building is a room with an intriguing history. Natassia Donohue reports.

Katie Miecznikowski takes us on a trip to room 114 of the Smiley Art Building.

Kathy Kim

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