Oasis: You Can’t Keep A Good Name Down
by Beth P. Storie – www.OuterBanksThisWeek.com
Oasis Suites Hotel has a past…one that started almost 70 years ago, though you’d never think that when looking at the lovely Nags Head hotel today. There’s absolutely nothing in the elegant suites and perfectly maintained property that belies its former life. But name and place often transcend years, and in this case the Oasis Restaurant transformed into the Oasis Suites, keeping only its waterfront location as a reminder of days gone by.
Standing on one of the Oasis Suites Hotel’s balconies and looking out over the Roanoke Sound, you immediately see the appeal of this place – and why the original owner decided to build a restaurant on what was then called Treasure Island. From here you see a panorama that includes miles of glistening water dotted with boats, a soundfront full of houses, restaurants and shops, and a front row view to amazing sunsets. It’s easy to imagine diners sitting by the large windows and dining on fresh seafood.
Oasis Restaurant was opened by Violet Kellem in 1950. By all accounts, she was a woman who loved interacting with her patrons and making sure they enjoyed themselves. It’s clear she was admired, and that also clearly had an impact on the restaurant’s great reputation. But two other things are what any old-time local will tell you were the main draws: barefoot college coeds and lace cornbread. The young women who worked for Violet wore white Bermuda shorts, blue ties and aprons and white shirts…but no shoes. What would cause a workman’s comp representative to quiver today was the very thing that was just kitchy enough in the first few decades of the restaurant to make it stand out. It was fun, it created a more laid back feel and the guests loved it. (We do have to wonder what those poor feet looked like at the end of a busy night!) Violet also provided on-site housing so she could keep an eye on her girls.
One of the most popular items these barefoot coeds served was the famous lace cornbread – a wonderful invention that tasted a bit like a crunchy hushpuppy, served warm with tons of butter. You were probably full long before your meal arrived, but who cared. An old menu also shows that the specialty of the house was #1 Prime Rib and that all sandwiches were served with French fries, slaw…and lace cornbread.
The Oasis operated until 1980 when Warren Jones took over and renamed it The Dock. The wait staff put on shoes and a steam bar was added, but the place kept its appeal. The restaurant was a popular local’s hangout, and Warren was always generous about letting groups hold fundraisers, parties and events there.
In 1990, Violet’s grandchildren – Mike, Mark and Kellem France – bought the property and re-renamed it. Oasis Restaurant was back. They gave it a facelift and saw to it that their grandmother’s legacy was back in business. Another generation of owners and diners shared the same incredible views and fresh seafood. Name and place transcending years again.
The young women who worked for the oasis wore white Bermuda shorts, blue ties and aprons and white shirts…but no shoes.
What would cause a workman’s comp representative to quiver today was the very thing that was just kitchy enough in the first few decades of the restaurant to make it stand out.
The Oasis was bought by the Hatchell family in 2003, and their intention was to keep right on serving good food in a beautiful waterfront location. But fate – and fire – had other plans. In March of 2004, while the restaurant was closed for the winter, a spark from the seafood steamer ignited fumes from a floor stripper they were using. The destruction was total, and the loss was devastating, both to the owners and to the loyal patrons.
But, you know, you just can’t keep a good name (or location) down. And, after some planning, the Hatchells decided to rebuild…just not a restaurant. They felt the space would be better used as a hotel. They took their time coming up with the architectural plan because they wanted to build a boutique suites hotel that was like none other on the Outer Banks. They succeeded. And time was needed to design the interior of the suites so that the beauty of the hotel and each suite would surpass expectation at affordable rates. They more than succeeded.
Every suite is just shy of sumptuous, but if you track sand in – as they know you will – nothing is ruined. The wood floors are easily swept. The marble countertops and high-end appliances in the kitchens are built for vacationer use. The leather sofas and chairs are sturdy, and the curtains are ones you wish you could somehow twitch your nose and teleport to your own house. The colors are classy and subdued. Bathrooms make you want to linger because they’re just pretty. And the linens…well, we have no idea how they keep them so pristine. Then, of course, there are the views from the balconies, the same sweeping views that made diners in decades past either long to be able to see that lovely water all the time or thank the Gods That Be that they made the choice to live on the Outer Banks.
There’s now a pool, hot tub and kiddie pool where once there was only parking lot. Unharmed by the fire, the gazebo is still a perfect perch for reading or for saying vows. And these days, locals call it Pond Island. But if you stand on the grassy lawn, looking out over the glistening expanse, you experience the same connection with the natural beauty and serenity that surely told Violet all those years ago that this was a place that would draw guests. It’s still an oasis, transcending time and changes.
Today the oasis is a beautiful boutique hotel with amazing views, elegant yet cozy interiors and outdoor amenities including a pool and gazebo that honor its lovely waterfront landscape.