Owner Dennis Borlek, Jr. says, “This place is pretty much an homage to my dad.”
1776 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” At least, that’s according to French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, whose portrait hangs near the doorway of Fathom Bistro Bait and Tackle alongside fellow underwater explorers Steve Zissou (The Life Aquatic), Mike Nelson (Sea Hunt), and Dennis Borlek Sr.
“This place is pretty much an homage to my dad,” says Dennis Borlek Jr.
Wearing a fisherman’s cap, large-rim glasses, and a salt-and-pepper beard, Borlek looks right at home on the Shelter Island pier that has housed his sausage-and-beer bar since February, and it’s no coincidence. He grew up about a mile north, on Talbot Street, until he was five and, during his adolescence, worked as a deckhand on dive boats in the area before starting his own underwater-boat-maintenance business.
“I started diving when I was 12 years old,” Borlek says. “The whole aquatic thing is what I grew up with.”
As such, Cousteau’s “net of wonder” casts itself on Fathom’s deep blue walls in a mash-up of nautical fact and science fiction: vintage diving equipment, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea posters, a bookcase full of National Geographic back-issues, and, sitting over a window that looks southwest toward the sub base, the ashes of submarine veteran Dennis Sr.
Borlek dedicates about half of his 15 taps to local breweries, including Societe, AleSmith, and Monkey Paw. He sources the rest from friends, like former roommate Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company. He even met with Helm’s Brewing Co. in Kearny Mesa to formulate the house Pier Beer — a 5 percent dry-hopped session IPA that imparts all the flavor and aroma of an India Pale Ale without the inebriating wallop.
Elaborating on his chops behind the grill at the now-defunct Liars Club, Borlek foregoes customary waterfront cuisine in favor of homemade sausages (350 pounds a week) and Vienna hot dogs. The star of the Asian/Pacific Island–inspired menu is the EXPLODO Dog — a bacon-wrapped dog with pepper-jack cheese, homemade kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), and mustard.
Seating about 30, Fathom’s patio offers a zillion-dollar view of downtown across the bay. Between beers, you can rent a pole and cast for a bonefish, spotted bay bass, sand bass, and halibut, which are plentiful in the warm summer waters.
Squinting from behind his lenses on an overcast Sunday afternoon, Borlek says, perhaps a little spellbound, “I plan on dying here.”
- Attire: Fishing boots and a bib
- Hours: Tuesday–Thursday, 3–10 p.m.; Friday, 3–12 a.m.; Saturday, 12 p.m.–12 a.m.; Sunday 12 p.m.–8 p.m.
- Prices: pints, about $6
- Food: Pacific Island sausages and more
- Capacity: about 20 inside, 30 on the patio