When the clock struck midnight March 7, patrons at Menlo Park's Oasis burger and beer pub said their goodbyes and helped clean up the facility for what may have been the last night of the bar and restaurant considered by many to be a community institution.
Hunkered in one booth to reminisce were former General Manager Jack Stemplinger and Steve Crooks, manager of another of the the Tougas family's restaurants, the Garret.
Mr. Stemplinger oversaw the restaurant and the family's other restaurant locations, and had worked for the Tougas family since the 1980s before retiring in July 2017. He now lives in Idaho, but flew out for the event.
He said there had been "such a cast of characters over the years." In former days, the bar had been home to Friday night fights, evenings when fights were broadcast on TV in black and white. And there was a time when the bar offered deviled eggs, pickles, and maybe even pigs' feet at the bar, Mr. Stemplinger said.
The bar had a long-running tradition of supporting craft beer, he said, even before it became popular. In the late 1950s, former owner Bernie Tougas negotiated an agreement with Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Brewing Company, to serve the beer there, he said.
Stanford affiliates, and particularly its sports teams, had long been mainstay clientele for the business, he said.
Mr. Stemplinger said he aimed to keep the location as a place where people could kick off their shoes, or let their hair down, but not have it be a dive or a dump either. He preserved the engravings at the restaurant's wooden tables while routinely refinishing them to keep things clean.
Longtime business manager Francisco Salazar was also there with his family. He had worked at the Oasis since 1992, and said it was the "saddest day of my life."
He plans to work at one of the Tougas family's other five restaurants in the South Bay, the Garret Station in Los Gatos.
He said he knows the regulars well, some of whom have been coming to the spot since they were kids. In some cases, he's seen families with three generations of Oasis-goers.
As the bartenders gave the last call, Mr. Salazar stopped by the hand-carved booth Mr. Stemplinger had so carefully preserved over the years. On one shoulder, he held a sleepy kid; his other arm he stretched out for a goodbye handshake.
According to a March 2 email from Menlo Park Vice Mayor Ray Mueller to city officials, the Tougas family is open to speaking to potential operators "interested in licensing or buying the trademark, brand and menu of the Oasis, and operating the restaurant in (a) way that gives credit to the restaurant and family's history and place in the Menlo Park community."
Mr. Mueller added that property owner Dan Beltramo had indicated that he is in the process of finding a new operator for the site and wishes to discuss parking capacity at the restaurant with the city.
"I am cautiously optimistic the pieces are coming together that will keep the Oasis operating in Menlo Park," Mr. Mueller wrote in the email.