Midday At The Oasis

A look inside the HuffPost's Zen-fueled convention spa

DENVER- “Hi, there, would you like an hors d’oeuvre?”

A woman is smiling in front of me, a tray of spring rolls, cut sushi-sized and arranged in neat rows, balanced on her forearm.

Apparently, I hesitate in answering. “They’re vegan,” she informs me, in a don’t worry tone.

Well, in that case. I take a piece. And it’s delicious.

And with that, I have to say: Touche, Arianna Huffington, touche. I mean, I’d known the HuffPost Oasis would offer snacks; I hadn’t known it would offer vegetable spring rolls with a tamari-peanut sauce or a vegan pate with cranberry chutney and watercress. I’d known it would have smoothies; I hadn’t known those smoothies would be made of wheat grass and berries (flavor one) or carob and tofu (flavor two). I’d known the Oasis would offer yoga instruction, massages, and facials; I hadn’t realized that Arianna-and-Team had converted five rooms of a third-floor, downtown-Denver office building into a full-on spa.

But a full-on spa, indeed, they have spawned. Or, well, sorta. The Oasis is, really, a spa-meets-hotel-lobby-meets-Hometown-Buffet- meets-Enya-concert-meets-movie-set. And that potent combination has proved a flame for the moths in the media: David Carr stopped by the Oasis to interview Huffington earlier this week; Katie Couric demonstrated her downward-facing dog in the yoga area; Daryl Hannah has come by—several times, apparently—for hand massages and general Zen-iness. And the HuffPost, which has set up a special section of its Web site devoted to coverage of the Dramatic Happenings at the Oasis, has been documenting their comings and goings.

A man in a pin-striped suit and Windsor-knotted red tie saunters into the Oasis’s lobby area. Taking in the dim lighting, the New Age-y music, and the motley collection of assorted bloggers, gawkers, and yogis before him, he looks startled. But he comes in anyway, taking a laptop out of his shoulder bag and settling down on a couch. An Invesco Field-bound delegate walks in, wearing red pants, a flag-printed t-shirt, a red-sequined cap, and a fanny pack whose belt cinches her waist. She thumbs through the literature arranged on a naked-wood side table—postcard-sized ads for Essential Living Foods, Organic India teas, More magazine, Pangea Organics (“ecocentric bodycare”)—before wandering back into the hallway. Margaret Carlson walks in for a yoga appointment, letting the friend accompanying her take the open slot (“I’ll just wait for the next one”), using the waiting time to settle down onto a settee and type on her BlackBerry. Later, she’ll interrupt the friend’s yoga session to confirm their plans for traveling to Invesco Field for Obama’s acceptance speech.

A shoeless woman does a warrior pose in the corner of the yoga “studio” (three mats arranged on the carpet before a brick wall lined with potted reeds, their stalks back-lit for dramatic effect). A yogi in dreadlocks, wearing a black t-shirt (RAISE AWARENESS INSPIRE CHANGE) and designer jeans, assists her.

Near the spa area, where black-clad technicians offer hand massages and facials to their ten-minute clients, the Oasis smells like aromatherapy oil, spicy and soothing and laced with lavender. Near the yoga area, the Oasis smells like feet.

Which seems a fitting metaphor for the place overall: there’s something soothing in the Oasis’s Eastern-inspired spa-ism—the smoothies; the buffet of carob ships, nuts, organic yogurt, and fruits both dried and fresh; the assortment of organic teas; the lighting; the music; the whole vibe. Not to mention the always-soothing fact that the Oasis’s amenities are all free.

But there’s something unsavory, too, about the place, something strange in the relationship between the Oasis and the political convention taking place beyond its walls—something disconcerting about the isolation it encourages between the media and the events they’re meant to cover; something odd in the suggestion that those media members are so stressed in all their reporting that they must be in dire need of “unplugging and recharging” at the Oasis; something off-putting about the excessive branding at play in an environment that pays so much lip service to Emotional Well-Being; something ironic about the fact that all this Zen-fueled opulence comes courtesy of a media organization that (in)famously doesn’t pay its bloggers for their work.

None of which, however, seems to bother the Oasis’s clientele. Sauntering to the buffet table for a second helping of the wheat grass concoction, a woman grins at the attendant. “Bless you guys for doing this,” she says, taking a swig of smoothie. “This is awesome.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.