Oasis Lounge at the intersection of North Main
Street and West Federal Street.
McDonalds was built on the former Oasis property
The location of the Oasis Lounge.
1954 advertisement for Dick LaPolla's Victory
Cafe at 39 East Park Avenue.
Oasis bartender has seen the area change.
By Jim Flick April 20, 1983
The Oasis Lounge has been open for an hour and a half, Dick
Lapolla, the tavern’s longtime owner, sits at the bar
talking over a newspaper and a cup of coffee to his solitary customer.
The 7:30 a.m. opening time is a hold-over from better days, when
mill workers laboring on the midnight shift stopped on their way
home for a beer on those mornings that seemed like evenings. “When
the mills closed and the paychecks quit coming and the people
didn’t have the extra money, the bar business started hurting,”
“Some people say people will always have
a buck or two to get a drink, but that’s not true.”
He remembers strikes and slowdowns and layoffs in the old days,
when steelworkers sipped beer all day to pass the time. “But
those guys knew they were going to have a paycheck coming soon.
Today, a lot of these guys have no hope. I talked to one young
guy the other day who has 125 applications out and never got a
call. He was talking about leaving the town. Can’t blame
them. What kind of future do they have here?”
No, LaPolla isn’t bitter or resentful.
“You have to like the business to be in it,” he says,
and he’s been behind the bar-several bars since 1946. Now
60, he has owned and operated the Oasis Lounge since 1952. He’s
just a realist who sees changes in the local economy reflected
by the number of people in his tavern, by the empty seats these
days. “It’s not like the old days, when people were
three, four deep around the bar every afternoon and evening,”
he said. “Those days are gone, closed off like the steel
mills. But nobody needs to be told that.”
But while the amount of business in the bar may
change, rising and falling with local economic conditions, the
life of a bartender rings eternal. “I like to talk to people,
fortunately. Always have,” LaPolla said. “You have
to put up with all types of people, and you learn all the types
over the years.” “The number of bad people are very,
very few and you get rid of them quickly by refusing to serve
And the cliché, is true-bartenders are
amateur psychiatrists whom people turn to with their problems.
If people have problems and want to talk to somebody, they usually
pile them on their bartender. “I just listen and try to
relate my own experiences and others I’ve heard to try to
ease their pain.”
But most people flock to bars because bars are
today’s greatest social outlet. Nowhere else do people meet
and mingle and socialize as casually as they do in taverns. Total
strangers start trading lies and secrets and their life stories
within minutes of their first meeting. Dates and deals are made,
friendships and acquaintances reaffirmed.
“Most people just have a few drinks and
maybe some food,” LaPolla said. Like most tavern owners,
LaPolla is concerned about the new, tougher driving under the
influence alcohol law and its harsher penalties. “That new
law has them scared. Two beers and you’re drunk, according
to the law. That’s crazy.”
His customers are drinking less, coming out later,
leaving earlier, according to LaPolla. Still this caution may
not be enough to keep them out of trouble. “There’s
going to be a lot of people picked up who aren’t intoxicated.
I feel sorry for them.”
LaPolla is director of the Trumbull County Tavern
Owners Association and a trustee of the Ohio Licensed Beverage
Association. The state organization employs a lobbyist in Columbus,
a man who is rated the sixth most effective lobbyist in state
government circles. This lobbyist naturally targeted the new driving
under the influence law, but was unable to convince legislators
to change the law.
“They try to put the blame (for drunk drivers)
on the taverns. Well, look at the gas station carry-outs.”
As one local police chief said recently, “gasoline and alcohol
don’t mix, so why are we selling them together.” LaPolla
believes gas station carry-outs are more responsible for drinking
drivers than taverns.
“I guess every tavern owner is like me-if
somebody’s had too much to drink, we get them a ride home.
We don’t let them stagger out of here, they might damage
a car in the parking lot. I’ve got too much invested here
to let some stupid drunk mess it up. I watch my customers. A veteran
bartender knows when to cut off somebody, knows when they’ve
has too much to drink.”
As one of the area’s most veteran bartenders,
LaPolla has seen more than drunk driving laws change. He’s
watched the times change, too; stood back behind his bar and seen
the marching years stamp footprints on the face of human nature.
And a barroom is a microcosm of humanity.
“Back when I started tending bar, people
had more consideration for each other,” LaPolla said. “Now
it seems they don’t care, they’ve gotten colder. Maybe
it’s home-life, I don’t know. Busted homes are probably
the biggest problem for the young people today. It doesn’t
make them considerate.”
And it’s not just growing up between divorced
parents that young men and women cry in their beer about,”
according to LaPolla. Many people in their early 20s pour out
the pain of their own divorces to LaPolla across the bar. “It
hurts. They’re having a rough time,” the bartender
“When I started into this, I liked it,”
LaPolla said. The clock was creeping closer to noon and he expected
a lunchtime rush. Unemployment may be high, but many people still
work and take a break for lunch.