The Oasis restaurant, an Austin landmark that sits on a cliff overlooking Lake Travis, burned down last night after an apparent lightning strike.
The main three-story building, with its treehouse-like decks jutting along a 450-foot cliff overlooking the lake, was badly damaged, Hudson Bend Fire Chief Bruce Watson said. About 25 of the 40 decks, the restaurant's main entrance and a courtyard were destroyed. Damage estimates topped $1 million.
Hailed as one of Texas' top 10 tourist attractions, the Oasis drew an average of a million customers annually from all 50 states and several other countries. [Owner Beau] Theriot said he has seen people wearing Oasis T-shirts while traveling in Mexico City, Bangkok and Paris.
The restaurant hosted weddings, receptions and countless company parties. It also featured Sunday night salsa dancing and live music. Theriot likened it to a cruise-ship atmosphere.
On a given night, nearly 2,000 customers would pack the place, with crowds outside often waiting up to a couple of hours for a table.
"The Oasis is an icon of all the fun and entertainment and joy and life on Lake Travis," said Sherrie Hitt, one of dozens of loyal patrons who came to the lake early Wednesday to see the devastation. She stood near Mansfield Dam, peering across Lake Travis through binoculars.
Theriot had opened his first restaurant in 1973 when he was 26: the Brownstone Restaurant, which combined his love of food and antiques. He later opened his own gallery and launched Cafe Adobe in Houston's eclectic Montrose neighborhood.
He came to Lake Travis to build a weekend home. But after watching several sunsets from the edge of a nearby cliff, he decided he should build a restaurant there. Theriot said he bought the 500-acre tract for $1.5 million in 1979 with no particular plan.
By 1982, he had completed renovation of the ramshackle ranch house, the only structure on the property. Theriot said his initial plan was to offer a simple menu of hamburgers and beer to lake visitors.
After a couple of years, he decided to expand. He began adding decks on the side of the cliff, offering more visitors a view of sunsets over the nearby hills. Soon after it opened, restaurant workers began a tradition that continued through Tuesday: the ringing of a sunset bell followed by a standing ovation.
Theriot kept adding decks and expanded the menu to include Mexican cuisine, salads and other entrees.