By Dr. Ink
Fat Cat’s Bar & Grill
1263 University Ave., San Diego CA 92103
Happy Hour: 5 to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays
The previously forsaken Ruby Kitchen is now Fat Cat’s Bar & Grill, which received a much-needed energy transfusion by new leaseholder Vic Rivas. In an attempt to warm up the challenging, high-ceiling space, he’s added neon beer signs, flat screen TVs and colorfully printed menus that speak of wickedly tempting bar food.
Rivas says he’s intent on giving customers “a little pop for their hard-earned bucks,” referring to an all-week happy hour that extends to the entire day on Sundays. A chalk board perched above a large gas grill on the front patio explains some of the food and booze deals: A pint of Rolling Rock with a hot dog costs $4 on Mondays; a taco and Corona light are paired for the same price on Tuesdays; half-off wings come into play on Wednesdays; sliders sell for $1.50 apiece on Thursdays; and a pint of Shock Top Ale with a fish taco is priced at $4 on Fridays.
Cooler weather turns Saturdays at Fat Cat’s into a warm sanctuary, when five bucks lands you all the chili you can eat. And on Sundays, the focus is on football, kicking off with a late-morning buffet that we missed by a few hours. Yet on any day during happy hour, domestic and light beers are $3 apiece; bottled imports are $4; and Stella, Shock Top and Rolling Rock drafts cost $5. Coincidentally, wines from a producer named Fat Cat Cellars in Napa are included in the program for $4 a glass.
Rivas chose the simplest of formulas for potentially snagging imbibers from the street, using visuals that cue consumption and a friendly wait staff that greets you with fast hospitality. The Ruby Kitchen generally failed on both counts; thus its chronic emptiness that Fat Cat’s is determined to overcome.
“The space just needed a big hug,” says Rivas, as he and a roomful of jersey-clad customers fervently reacted to a near-touchdown by the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. It turned out they lost to the New England Patriots. “I’ve been a Chargers fan for 32 years. This year hurts a little,” he added.
Dr. Ink and friend channeled our attention to the $4 bottled imports: a Dos Equis XX Lager boasting the signature pith of toasted malts, and Hoegaarden wheat ale laced with hints of coriander and orange peel. Both brews tasted custom-made for the “blue chips,” which are thinly sliced potatoes cooked in canola oil and crowned with robust bleu cheese sauce and green onions. So beer-friendly were these quasi-potato chips that we ordered them in the form of Irish nachos as well, topped this time with spicy cheddar sauce and diced corned beef. They’re priced at $8.50 and $9 respectively.
“If they put out these potatoes for free, just plain, or marked them down for happy hour, people would probably order twice as many drinks,” I said to my companion as we chewed, slugged and swallowed repeatedly. “They’re veritable money makers!”
The regular menu, overseen by Executive Chef Anthony Vallone (formerly of the Town & Country Resort and Tommy’s in El Cajon), is stocked with appetizers, sandwiches, entrées, Mexican specialties and barbecue items—much of it naughty stuff but less greasy and a tad more creative than what you’d find in other casual bars.
Fat Cat’s is a different animal compared to the rowdy jock houses seen in neighborhoods like Pacific Beach, for example. This is Hillcrest, after all, where patrons are afforded a relaxed experience with a lot more levity no matter what team shirt they’re wearing.
A growing beer list includes domestics, imports and drafts that so far cover most bases to keep the average beer drinker contented. Wines include a few varietals by Fat Cat Cellars from Napa (no relation to this business).
The made-to-order potato “chips” are winners, despite the fact they’re not marked down during happy hour. But discounted items throughout the week on wings, dogs, tacos and chili prove deserving after a midday jog on the Stairmaster.
We very much like the beer-n-food combo deals that occur a few days of the week! And the daily beer and wine discounts are fair and obliging, all kept at $5 and under.
On a busy Sunday afternoon we were greeted promptly by a smiling waiter who was able to rattle off the complete beer selection while keeping a sharp eye on our empties.
Three hours six days a week plus 12 hours on Sundays demonstrates compassion to those on crimped budgets in a bad economy. And it makes good business sense, too