There is an actual fat lady. Everyone always asks that, apparently, but she did exist — at least in legend. As the story goes, back in the 1870s — when Jack London Square was an old-fashioned seaport and the building was a brothel — she was its apocryphal madam. These days, the fat lady is naked and two-dimensional, captured in profile in a painting right by the Fat Lady’s door. Over the years, she has been joined by various other illustrated nudes of various shapes and sizes, but she’s it, the original, purchased by the bar’s original owner as a favor to a friend, whose son, a struggling artist, had painted it. (The lady was first, and then came the name.) The bar has been in the same family since it was bought, refurbished, and reopened in 1970, and it feels like a genuinely family-run place: When I was there, generation two was haranguing generation three from across the bar, something about not refilling the tank after borrowing the car.
Like its creation myth, the Fat Lady is part myth, but mostly truth. Design-wise, it happens to mesh well with the speakeasy-saloon trend rearing its Fedora’d head in every new bar/restaurant/club/hair salon/cannabis dispensary/funeral parlor around, but you can be sure that this place has looked more or less the same for forty years, trends be damned. The building was constructed in 1884 and is now outfitted with well-chosen knickknacks — Tiffany lamps, stained glass, a sign rescued from the Fox Theater during its recent revitalization. As far as the clientele goes, it’s filled with whatever the human equivalent of well-chosen knickknacks is: a hipstery-looking young couple, a business-tripping Frenchman, an after-work type loudly discussing the terms of his recent divorce, several families, the requisite thirtysomething guy alone on his iPhone, and even a pair of priests. The bar itself is solid and gorgeous. It dates back to the turn of the century, and are there no computers in the place at all — if you ask for a receipt, the bartender will hunt around a while before producing a handwritten note with the name of your drink and a dollar amount.
All of this goes to say that while everybody else in the universe is desperately trying to manufacture age and the character that supposedly comes with it, the Fat Lady is actually old and actually full of character(s). Various technological restrictions mean they can’t make everything — the Frenchman asked for a Piña Colada, but alas, no blender, no dice — but the Fat Lady is honest about what it is and what it isn’t. And at any rate, the Frenchman ended up enjoying his Mai Tai, and if I could’ve gotten away with it I would’ve licked the glass after my Mafioso (American Honey Bourbon, St. George’s Firelit Coffee Liqueur, and steamed milk, $9 — looks like a root beer float and tastes like an alcoholic espresso). Even the priests seemed okay with all the naked ladies.