Out Of Gas: After 27 Years, Fuel And Fuddle Has Reached The Finish Line

The last day of operation for the Oakland gastropub is May 26.


And I’ve got swinging doors, a jukebox and a bar stool. And my new home has a flashing neon sign. Stop by and see me anytime you want to. ‘Cause I’m always here at home ‘till closing time.

In his song “Swinging Doors,” the late Merle Haggard extols the benefits of a friendly bar, a place where you can drown your sorrows, raise your spirits and nourish your soul.

For me that place is, and always will be, Fuel and Fuddle. And right now I need someone to fuel and cuddle me. 

After 27 years, the Oakland gastropub is shutting down. In a social media post, Owner Brandon Smith said his lease was up — along with rent, food costs and all the other things that make running a restaurant possible. The final day of service is May 26.


Brandon, who I’ve known since he was a 19-year-old, wisecrackin’ waiter there, says he’s at peace with his decision and it’s time to move on. He bought the place from his old bosses in 2014 and breathed new life into the joint. But, like a bouncer at 2 a.m., he has to hit the lights and slowly usher a bunch of weepy drunks out the door (myself included).  

Thankfully — and somewhat surprisingly — I have a lot of memories on tap. From late-night bites and attending the eatery’s annual staff picnic in Schenley Park to seeing longtime beer-slinger J.C. covertly reading a parenting book behind the bar months before his son was born, my cup runneth over with amazing stories, most not suitable for print.


Like many University of Pittsburgh students, I had my first legal beer at Fuel. It was Y2K, and, unlike most newly minted 21-year-olds, I didn’t chug a Bud or some other macro swill, but a Skull Splitter, a wee heavy ale from Orkney Brewery in Scotland.

Before I knew it, I was a member of the bar’s J.C.’s Beer Cult, which required patrons to drink 100 different brews from around the world. Don’t worry, Mom; I didn’t consume that all in one day like Andre the Giant. It was more like a week.  

The neon sign above Fuel’s door still reads “No crap on tap.” and that’s always held true. Before there was a brewery on every corner, Fuel, along with D’s Six Pax and Dogz, the Sharp Edge (R.I.P.) and The Harmony Inn, were trailblazers on the burgeoning craft beer scene.



The fact that they served half-priced food (the “fuel”) and poured cheap drinks after 11 p.m. was a poor college kid’s dream! I was an English major, so I can tell you “fuddle” means “to confuse or stupefy someone, especially with alcohol.”

I learned more about life, love and friendship over a cold pint and Rosemary’s Breasts (it’s a sandwich!) than I did in any lecture hall. My BFF Vanessa and I spent many Saturday nights perched on bar stools. In the pre-cell phone era, our sorority sisters would call Fuel to see if we were there. 

Most times we were belting out tunes with local singer-songwriter Don Szejk, who sang heartbreaking songs from the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam and Johnny Paycheck.   

I became an outlaw country music fan who sipped Lindemans Framboise out of a tulip glass. Yes, it’s possible to be a badass and a beer snob!

Vanessa came to visit from Minnesota earlier this year and we went directly from the airport to Fuel, where our regular bar stools were waiting for us. It was one of the happiest moments I’ve experienced in these last three years.

The pandemic did a number on restaurants and their owners. Oakland certainly isn’t the same place now that The O, the Beehive and other cool, indie establishments are gone. Thank goodness Gene’s Place is still pouring! Where else can you get a pitcher of Old German for the price of a pint? The world knows no finer, indeed.

As closing time approaches, I want to raise a glass to my fellow patrons, all the staff members past and present, my buddy Brandon and original owners Mike Hanley and Jerry Dilembo, who now run Burgatory and Shorty’s for giving me a second home. This broken heart will be at Fuel and Fuddle until my closing time.

Cheers, friends!

Categories: PGHeats