Wednesday, March 26, 2014

@ Fuel Coffee Bar in Little Italy

Yes, it has frontal parking, and yes, it is in a one-story, single-use building, but don't knock it before you try it.

Matt is king of the parking lot!
That is what I told myself Saturday, March 15, when my boyfriend, Matt, and I visited Fuel Coffee Bar in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood. After visiting the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for an intellectual stroll and then La Dolce Vita Bistro for a sophisticated lunch, Matt and I wanted to visit a coffee shop to feature in this week's blog post. I remember seeing Fuel included in a list of highlighted coffee shops in Northeast Ohio nearly a month ago. (The blog post was written by a Kent State University friend of mine, Ellen Kirtner.)

I doubted Fuel at first glance, but as Matt and I stepped inside to see the interior, my doubts dissipated. I immediately noticed the gas station-themed decals and menu items. Although very strange, I thought it was cute. "Maybe it's trying to reveal some irony in how Americans worship our cars and the fuel that feeds them," my initial thought ran.

I am told this man owned the former gas station for 40 years.
My eyes then noticed several vintage photos of a gas station and its owner. I think I almost piddled in my pants when I connected the dots. A more than 40-year-old gas station re-purposed as a coffee shop? That's possibly the most ground-breaking premise I've heard in a coffee shop.

Not only is the premise great, so were the service and atmosphere; so much that Matt and I took a second trip the day after to study and work at Fuel.

Location: Little Italy is a very vibrant neighborhood within biking distance of Case Western Reserve University and all of the museums at University Circle. In addition, Little Italy's shops and eateries along Murray Hill and Mayfield Road keeps Matt and I dreaming of moving to the neighborhood someday, despite that neither of us are even a small bit Italian.  (Matthew is a rather estranged Englishman with pretty intense eyebrows.  He often pictures himself as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice.)

Someday I will own this mug...
Surrounded by two-, three- and four-story mixed-use buildings that are up against the sidewalk, Fuel sticks out like a sore thumb in Little Italy. Or to be more precise, Fuel's building sticks inward because of all the parking in front of it. Matt and I had a hard time finding the place.  (We parked by the Catholic Church for free, and Matthew, being vaguely Episcopalian, enjoyed the historical reference.) With that said, Fuel seems to use the asphalt well. It has outdoor tables and chairs for patrons in the summer time, and throughout the weekend, Matt and I saw many people paying $5 for parking at Fuel. (Matt thought it was rude and rather tacky for the people not to at least buy a cup of coffee while they were in there.  "You only want me for my parking!")

Food and Beverage: Have I mentioned how much I love Fuel's clever menu items? They call their $1 refill a "spare tire" and a hot chocolate with four espressos a "wrench of the day."

The simple use of string lighting and fabric dramatically transforms the space.
On Saturday, Matt and I ordered a 16-ounce tune-up, which is a chocolate and caramel equivalent of a cappuccino, a 16-ounce "international of the day" coffee with a shot of espresso, two macadamia-nut cookies and a blueberry scone for $11 and change.

I also asked for a Fuel Loyalty Card so that I can someday soon win one of their free mugs. (It takes 12 stamps to get it, and as of writing this, I just realized I forgot to ask for stamps during our Sunday visit. Fail. Matt is gasping and smacking me lightly as he edits this.)

Space and Atmosphere: I am sure most people would expect to find a very industrial, possibly minimalist, design inside a gas station re-purposed into a coffee shop. Not the case at Fuel. In fact, the space takes more of a groovy 1970s-look with its orange color scheme, draped walls and ceilings, suspended lights and gas-station memorabilia. Some may call that unusually freaky. I think it's refreshing. I am getting a little tired of always seeing the same coffee-shop conventions like fire places, exposed ceiling vents, sofas and free WiFi... just kidding on the last one. Fuel indeed does have free WiFi, and quite frankly, no coffee shop should exist without it.

I am just posting this shot because in case it turns out
to be award-winning material. Look at that lighting.
Again, if you have suggestions of a coffee shop for a future entry, send it to me via on Twitter at @SimonSaysNH.


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