Photo by Kristy Locklin.

The 200 block of Oakland Avenue is closed to vehicular traffic, but you can still fill your engine at Fuel & Fuddle and Stack’d Burgers & Beer.

Through September 30, the street in front of the Oakland restaurants will offer outdoor seating. There are 50 tables, for parties of two or four, as well as an ADA-accessible ramp. A 10-foot lane is available for emergency vehicles. Customers can get tableside service from the two eateries or bring in takeout from other spots in the neighborhood.

The Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID) partnered with various entities, including the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI), the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the University of Pittsburgh to make al fresco dining a reality. Large planters donated by Pitt prevent automobiles from accidentally driving down the road.

A grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation allowed OBID to purchase tables, chairs and umbrellas, string lights above the area and install a reusable walkway. Rycon Construction installed the 120-foot structure within a few days, allowing the space to open on June 12. Seats filled up immediately after they were put into place.

Fuel & Fuddle owner Brandon Smith, whose restaurant sat empty for two months before reopening on May 22 for takeout, was able to bring back half of his staff to service the 30 indoor tables and the extended seating area. It’s open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Guests are asked to check in with the hostess and wear a mask until they are seated.

Smith would like to see the closure of Oakland Avenue become a summertime tradition, attracting people to the area when local universities aren’t in session.

Photo by Kristy Locklin.

OBID Executive Director Georgia Petropoulos proposed the idea of a street closure to the city at the end of April. She wants to provide additional outdoor seating on the other side of Oakland Avenue and along Meyran Avenue, to give businesses and patrons more breathing room as they adhere to social distancing guidelines. There are plans to eliminate some parking spaces on Forbes Avenue to allow for a centralized curbside pickup point for local retailers.

OBID also is helping local shops through the pandemic by launching an app to help business owners stay up-to-date on current health department guidelines to create a safe shopping environment and offering a gift card program like the one run by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Petropoulos is a member of a DOMI advisory committee that presented a report on how streets and mobility services could be used to support business and community health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other neighborhoods, such as Downtown, Lawrenceville and Shadyside, are investigating ways to put sidewalk seating in front of restaurants, eliminate parking spots to improve pedestrian traffic and transform some side streets into public patios.

On June 22, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership announced plans to reimagine Downtown streets to provide outdoor dining opportunities. Initial priority locations are at 6th Street from Liberty Avenue to Fort Duquesne Boulevard, Strawberry Way between Smithfield and Grant streets, Penn Avenue between 9th and 10th streets and Market Square, which collectively will impact 72 restaurants and other nearby businesses.

The project, which is also funded by a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, is expected to be fully activated by early July and will remain a fixture until late-October.

“These small businesses represent the lifeblood of our vibrant Downtown, so we are reinventing our street spaces to create outdoor dining experiences that allow restaurants further opportunities to reopen safely while delivering unique destinations in the heart of our city,” says Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. “These inviting spaces will continue to evolve over the next few weeks as we introduce public art and live music.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.