Oasis Diner Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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(Host) Fifty years ago this weekend, Harry Lines opened the Oasis Diner in its nook on Bank Street.

Much has changed in downtown since then, but the Oasis remains a popular haunt for locals.

As VPR’s John Van Hoesen reports, the secret to the diner’s longevity is an extra ingredient served up with every breakfast and lunch, that’s especially popular during an election year.

(Waitress) Can I have an order of sausage scrambled and white…

(Van Hoesen) The crack of an egg…
(Egg cracks)
Then the scramble…
(Stirring of scrambled egg)
And the sizzle on the griddle…
(Griddle sizzles)

Familiar sounds at any diner. But here, along with the stainless steel design and boomerang shapes on the countertops, there’s something else going on.

(David Lines) “People come here to be seen, and see, and engage, and just sort of be a part of life…this is still really one of the amazing charms of this place – people not only know us, they know other people in here.”

(Van Hoesen) David Lines is the manager at the Oasis. He and his brother, Jon, the principal owner, say there’s a long list of politicians who’ve hashed over policy in these booths. It was their father Stratty Lines who popularized the diner as a place for local discourse.

President Clinton stopped here in 1995. Former Governor Phil Hoff has long been a regular and helped get the diner going in the early days. Howard Dean was here last year with Dan Rather. And last fall, David Lines says Joe Trippi, Dean’s campaign manager, had a regular spot.

On this day, another longtime customer shows up for a booth toward the back. It’s Senator Patrick Leahy, who gets a chance to say hello to Stratty Lines.

(Leahy) “This diner – I’ve been coming here forever. When I was a real young lawyer here in Burlington and couldn’t afford to eat anywhere, you could always come here and get a good meal.”

(Stratty Lines) “You were an attorney with Phil Hoff, weren’t you?”

(Leahy) “Yup, and then when I was state’s attorney. A lot of times some of these things go all night long. When I was state’s attorney with the police, we’d come here for breakfast about 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning and Stratty would get the news about some major event before anybody else. And when I got elected the first time – that morning we were up about 3:00 in the morning for the election – that morning, we came down here – the whole family – and Stratty said every new senator gets one meal on the house – enjoy!”

(Van Hoesen) Sandy Baird, a local lawyer, has been coming to the Oasis for the coffee and the camaraderie for about 30 years.

(Baird) “The coffee is good, the coffee is freshly brewed, but it is also the atmosphere. Everybody’s close to each other in here; it’s a long narrow architecture and everybody is a longtime Burlington resident and knows what’s going on.”

(Van Hoesen) It’s a favorite place for Bill Mitchell, too.

(Mitchell) “I work as assistant to the mayor here in Burlington. I’ve been coming here as a regular for a number of years. I like the booths, I like the food, and more often than not, I run into folks I know here. You definitely hear some arguments; some heated discussions, some friendly ribbing – political ribbing – goes on here as well. So it’s a very diverse political group.”

(Van Hoesen) The Lines family says they still like the neighborhood atmosphere and hope to be serving up food and politics for a long time to come.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Van Hoesen in Burlington.

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