The Fat Cat: Uplift with a $3 Cover

Near the corner where Christopher Street meets Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, it is possible to leave behind the glossy, gentrified precincts of the West Village and tumble down a rabbit hole into a cavernous subterranean establishment called the Fat Cat. Nothing about this place is slick. A crowd of refreshingly unhip patrons drink beer (the only alcoholic beverage served) and entertain themselves shooting pool and playing ping pong, scrabble, chess, Foosball and table shuffleboard. In the memorably Burroughs-esque phrase of an online reviewer, it “has the ratty psychedelic feel of a saltwater aquarium, circa 1976.” But if the Fat Cat is a dive bar, it’s a dive bar with a mission statement.

In addition to offering live music every night, the Fat Cat “sustains the tradition of late nightly jam sessions which makes New York the jazz capital and which allow young musicians to earn their chops alongside veterans . . .” The first time I came to the Fat Cat I met an elderly jazz pianist named Bill Scala. He told me he came there every night: “It’s cheap and they have everything here. Even string quartets sometimes.” When I looked him up later on Google, I learned that he was 92 and once owned his own jazz club.

For me, the best time to be at the Fat Cat is 9:00 on Friday nights, when Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens strut onto the stage. Shelton’s sound is gospel by way of blues, soul and honky-tonk, and her performing style is generous, spirited and totally irresistible. She loves the audience and the audience loves her back. Nearing 70, Shelton seems not at all slowed down by a hip replacement last year. Start dancing on the sidelines and she’ll come over and dance with you. Express enthusiastic appreciation and expect hugs and kisses in return if you are within reach. It’s hard to imagine anywhere else in the five boroughs where a $3 cover could get you this much uplift.

Click here to learn more about Fat Cat’s history — better yet, check it out for yourself (75 Christopher Street, Manhattan).


  1. christine doudna says

    thanks for this great tip … right in my neighborhood and i’ve overlooked it all these years… can’t wait to hear naomi shelton!