The people of Fairfax deserve a well-thought-out watering hole. The Fat Dog, unfortunately, isn't it. Recently opened in a charmless, multi-story complex that seems emblematic of the mania for pre-fab mixed use developments, the Fat Dog is nominally a gastropub but with so little attention paid to the food that this descriptor, unappetizing to begin with, seems laughably lofty. To be fair, this is not an easy building to love. Yet neighbors Lindy & Grundy and Commissary have done will with their spaces, imparting them with either modern nostalgia or sleek minimalism. The Fat Dog looks like it was furnished by someone whose only cultural reference was a CB2 catalog. Whatever price-point it's trying to hit, whatever clientele it hopes to attract, a neighborhood bar ought to at least be one thing: inviting.
Forget about the wine list. It's only a few whites, a rosé and half-a-dozen reds. If it seems like an afterthought, it probably was. The beer selection is better, with 12 taps including a couple of locals like Craftsman's Heavenly Hefeweizen and Eagle Rock's Populist IPA. Another 15 bottles round out the selection: Duvel, Delirium Tremens, Chimay Tripel White and, because they probably have to, Corona. The Fat Dog won't inspire ale freaks to change course mid-traffic, but the dependable beer list is a welcome addition to this stretch of Fairfax.
If only the food were as reliable. Fat Dog's reach far outstrips its grasp. Everything is a couple degrees too ambitious. Deep-fried olives stuffed with sharp blue cheese are salty beyond belief; fried almonds are soaked with grease yet still aren't crisp; chili mac 'n cheese isn't chili married to mac 'n cheese so much as it is chili on top of noodles; and the French dip (served in an adorable skillet) comes with au jus that's basically salty brown water. The best thing on the menu, by far, is the hot dog, a long, thin wiener stretching to an impressive 13 inches and served with half-a-dozen square pots of condiments and toppings. The basic appeal of meat and bun remains indisputable. While Fat Dog tries to impress locals with an unfocused vision of what "gastropub" means in the year 2011, the simple, grilled hot dog needs no explanation.
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Best Bet: If you're already in the neighborhood and the weather is nice, relax with a beer on the patio.
Prices: $5-6, most draft beer; $5-8, most bottled beer; $9-11, cocktails; $10-14, entrees.