Tucked behind the curbside sign that welcomes visitors to Key Biscayne stands a small café that serves one of the best Cuban coffees to an eclectic crowd. Each morning, a line trails out the door and cyclists gather around la ventanita. This simple eatery has evolved into more than a place to get a cafecito. It's become a local cultural hub.
The wooden walls and outdoor benches of Oasis Café have set the scene for the building of community for more than 45 years. With handmade empanadas and caffeinated coladas, this neighborhood cafeteria has offered its clients a sense of home for decades. As the women behind the counter memorize each person’s name and order, a world of impersonalized chaos seems contained. The staff grows to become extended family, and the regulars become casual friends.
“In my opinion, this restaurant is a place where people come looking for joy,” says Wendy, an Oasis Café employee. “The food is good and the juices are great, but the environment is even better.”
“I have been coming to Oasis every day for 30 years,” says William, a local Cuban resident. “I sit down with my café con leche to wait and see who comes by. If I stay long enough, I’ll run into two or three good friends. We’ll sit down and talk, or we’ll try to remember things that happened to us when we were young. It becomes a kind of déjà vu to think about everything we’ve been through.”
While the restaurant has gained a loyal following of Cuban exiles, it has grown to become more than just a place to frame the past. As the name suggests, it is the “watering hole” for all who visit Key Biscayne. When its doors open at 6 a.m., about 400 residents, tourists, and workers flock to this landmark daily for their dose of Latin caffeine.
The café has also become the unofficial pit stop for cyclists to get a post-workout jolt of energy in the form of an espresso shot. "The coffee here isn’t necessarily that strong,” says Erik Speyer, an author and illustrator who has been cycling for more than a decade. “But it's sweet and it attracts quite a crowd. Ever since La Carreta closed down, this has become the place for the brotherhood of bikers. It gives us a place to meet that is close to the entrance of the key.”
Most cyclists agree with Erik and say it's not the quality of the coffee that allows for one-stop customers to become regular clientele. Rather, it's the restaurant’s overall accessibility and friendly environment that encourage people to make it a part of their daily routine.
“I don’t even drink this coffee because of the milk and the refined sugar,” says Lee Marks, a health-conscious athlete and lawyer based in Coral Gables. “But since Oasis is one of the only places that is receptive to bikers in the morning, I like to come here with my friends. Starbucks and other restaurants don’t have a place for our bikes, so we feel no invitation to go sit down.”
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By offering bikers and residents the opportunity to take a break from their busy day to enjoy the warmth of coffee and connection, Oasis Café succeeds in meeting its customer’s needs. As a restaurant, it thrives off its sense of consistency and community. After having developed a strong following, this restaurant has woven itself into the island’s social fabric, meaning that its food and its customers are here to stay.