Are you a fan of both craft beer and the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou? Well then, I have just the place for you. A bait shack and beer bar located on the west side of Shelter Island, overlooking the San Diego Bay. Not only is the tiny paneled dining room smartly turned out in dark blue with a collection of undersea themed movie posters, a bookshelf full of National Geographic back issues and vintage diving equipment - but the craft beer selection rivals any other establishment in town. That is not surprising considering the owner, Dennis Borlek, was one of the original cooks at the Liar's Club and managed Hamilton's before moving on to the Monkey Paw and ultimately landing here.
When we walked up we were greeted by Dennis, dressed in an elaborate pirate outfit - who stamped our hands with a squid logo. We entered the dimly lit space and felt like we were on a submarine - it's about the size of an RV, with the only light coming from a picture window overlooking the bay and one large yellow industrial light fixture hanging from the ceiling. The bar in front of the window is a perfect place to enjoy the view - especially at sunset - but there are a few blonde wood tables too. Very few - in fact I think three is the exact number. There are a few tables outside as well with a view of the city - and yes - an actual bait shop opening onto the pier.
I'm guessing it gets crowded on weekend nights, but on Sundays they close at 8, so it was pretty low key with just one or two other tables occupied. We sat by the window and enjoyed a Russian River Damnation and a Bear Republic Red Rocket with a classic blue cheese wedge salad, a burger and an Italian sausage sandwich. They make the sausages in house, and I think they are probably what they do best - though the pulled pork sandwich with housemade kimchi sounded promising too. They also do Baja style hot dogs, including a loaded version with kimchi and pepperjack.
I had a burger craving, so I ordered the Fathom Burger - it was a good traditional burger - but it was a little bit difficult to eat since it was served on a sausage roll. The Italian sausage with marinara and provolone was fantastic and the wedge salad was a classic specimen - chilled and crisp with tangy dressing and chunks of bacon and cherry tomatoes. It would be nice if they offered a few nibble style things to go with the beer - maybe some nuts, pickled vegetables or olives, or even a good grilled cheese. As it stands everything on the menu includes meat, so bear that in mind if traveling with vegetarians.
All in all though, the best thing about Fathom is that it feels special. It reminds me of one of those tiny ski chalets on the mountain that feels like a secret spot. They play great music, they have a killer beer selection and serve good food in a cozy atmosphere. It's a great spot for a date (it was in fact part of a "date day" that I had planned for James) particularly considering you can walk along the water before or after you stop in for your beer. It would also be a fun place for out-of-towners since it kills two birds - the view of the city and the craft beer scene in one swoop. You could even stop by the Bali Hai afterwards for Mai Tais - assuming you have nowhere to be the next morning...
Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle
1776 Shelter Island Drive
On the fishing pier toward the west end of the Island
across from the Best Western.