Just like Denver, Aurora has named neighborhoods, some more obscure than others. I recently found myself in Expo Park, a neighborhood just off South Havana Street and East Alameda Avenue, so I stopped in an Expo Park mainstay, Fat Boy's Sports Bar & Grill, for some drinks and late-night grub on a recent Monday.
I first visited Fat Boy's several years ago, and it wasn't the best of days — but not because of the bar itself. A friend and I had spent the the afternoon over drinks and conversation that swung wildly between spirited debate and angry dispute. We even managed to drag the owner of the bar, Janet Walker, into the discussion. Walker maintained an air of someone who had seen a lot of things in her day and settled a lot of bar arguments (more important, she took my side). I prefer laughing over arguing, though, so the day was already on the wrong track — and then my car engine essentially exploded right after I left the bar, so I spent more time waiting for a tow truck in a nearby parking lot than I did at Fat Boy's.
This time, I hoped for a more positive experience, rolling into the bar to enjoy food and drinks with a friend who works nearby. The kitchen stays open until 1 a.m., so we weren't worried about a lack of food when we rolled in around 9 p.m. The joint was busy, with the remnants of a lingering happy-hour crowd, plus a later group playing pool and chatting over drinks.
Fat Boy's is divided into two sides: one half that is more of a dining room, with little cubbies filled with tables and an electric fireplace, and another that contains the bar, pool tables and more seating. In the brightly lit bar area, several youngish guys were playing pool at the two tables, an after-work group of twenty-something guys and gals were finishing up some food and drinks, and a group of well-dressed older gentlemen speaking in what we guessed to be an African language filled a table behind us. As it is in much of Aurora, the clientele here was refreshingly diverse compared to hipper Denver nightlife zones, in terms of both age and cultural background, with a good mix of black and white, old and young.
There were a few couples and families with kids finishing up dinner in the dining-room side, where TVs lit the room in flashes of sporting events and other shows and a lottery ticket machine glowed from behind us. Outside, the large covered patio was dotted with folks drinking, dining and relaxing.
Walker named the place Fat Boy's in 1991 after she took over the space from her father, who ran a joint called the Loading Dock here. She even created a fictional backstory for the mysterious Fat Boy; a Chicagoan who was born fat and just kept growing, and whose recipes were found in Al Capone's vaults (according to the legend shared on the restaurant's menu).
The portions are indeed fat (as is the menu itself); the nachos, for example come in "foothill" and "mountain" sizes, both of which seemed intimidating. I opted for a manageable and crispy order of kettle chips with tangy ranch dressing, which were just right in terms of level of crispiness, while my my friend, who is vegetarian, got the grilled cheese sandwich. Bacon is standard on the grilled cheese here, so my friend asked for it on the side, knowing I'd happily take it off her hands. Fat Boy's makes most of its menu items in-house, and Walker makes her own desserts.
Monday nights offer $2 PBRs as well as a special on house wine and spaghetti. But there are also a few craft beers from Colorado and beyond, so I went with an Apricot Blonde from Aurora's own Dry Dock Brewing.
Manager Jessica Schooley filled us in on the regular happenings and special events at the bar; I was particularly interested in the $500 karaoke contest, a sing-off that happens over the course of three Thursday nights, with one winner each week. On the fourth Thursday, the three weekly champs gather and compete, with one winning the $500 prize. Judging is based not only on vocal talent, but on crowd engagement, which is the strongest part of my karaoke performance skills (so $500, here I come).
Other weekly events are a Friday fish fry with $5 Long Island iced teas, Tuesday night comedy, Saturday night lawn games on the patio, and Saturday and Sunday brunch. The happy hour at Fat Boy's is one of the longer ones around, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday. Walker, Schooley and company also love holidays and decorating for Halloween, Valentine's Day and Christmas (when a snow machine is cranked up). Mardi Gras brings a big celebration with New Orleans-style food, drink specials, masks, beads and all kinds of other good Fat Tuesday shenanigans. Walker also enjoys celebrating novelty holidays with specials such as drink specials on National Daiquiri Day and discounted dogs on National Hot Dog Day.
As the eclectic jukebox filled the bar with random songs, a couple who had noticed me taking notes came over and told me they had a bet going about whether I was a secret shopper or a writer for a magazine. We agreed that if I had been a "secret" anything, I was probably a bad one, because everyone in the house could see me scribbling in my little notebook. I confessed to being a writer, so this time, I was the one who got to settle an argument. And my car didn't even whine on the drive home, much less explode, making my second visit to Fat Boy's a success in more ways than one.
Fat Boy's Sports Bar & Grill is located at 10660 East Alameda Avenue in Aurora and is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, opening an hour earlier for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Call 303-344-1905 or visit the bar's website for more details.