Fat Boy’s Diner

Continuing in my not-really-in-Greenwich-but well-worth-a try series, Fat Boy’s Diner could actually be in the American Mid-West, the amount of trouble it takes to get to, despite the fact that it’s only a couple of hundred metres from The O2 as the crow flies. As the Phantom trudges, it’s a good three-quarters of an hour, but the kitsch-value alone makes the trip worthwhile.

There’s no information about the history of how this 1940s American diner, complete with aluminium cladding, Formica tables, slightly ageing red vinyl bench seats and twirly bar stools at the counter actually made it over to Blighty, but you know, I’m sure I remember it around Liverpool Street in the late 1980s (Am I mistaken? Or was that a different Fat Boy’s Diner? Maybe they’re all over the place – two-a-penny – and I just haven’t noticed them…)

Maybe it got too pricey to keep a what is essentially a posh caravan selling burgers in the City, but it’s found its spiritual home now, nestled among dead lighthouses, weird installations and container studios of Trinity Buoy Wharf, beloved by the artists who live there and their visitors alike.
How to describe it? Well – just think of practically any Hollywood movie that has pretensions to nostalgia and you’ve got it. Plastic sauce bottles (sadly not in the shape of tomatoes or hot dogs but you can’t have everything) Venetian blinds that make me think of that sinister scene in Goodfellas where Robert de Niro meets Ray Liotta ‘with intent’ (yeah, yeah, that wasn’t a trailer, but it was still damn creepy) black and white tiles and tabletop juke boxes. I once found a job lot of over 70 of those babies for just under thirty quid each, but I couldn’t even lift one of them, let alone get it in my suitcase, chiz.
Outside, they’ve plonked a few tables and some Yuccas. I don’t recommend them just at the moment, but they’re lovely in summer.
I’d say, to be absolutely honest, that the setting and the fabulous, fabulous decor are the real reasons to make a pilgrimage to this place. The food is predictable – burgers, hot dogs, fries (not chips, obviously) with shakes and Cokes, followed by pies and sundaes. And so it should be – it would be just wrong to eat anything else in such a venue. As it goes, it’s well-cooked and cheerfully served. But don’t expect anything more than that. It’s fun food, not gourmet, like most caffs, really.

The joy is in just being able to sit in a backwater in East London and pretend you’re in The Last Picture Show or Back to the Future or American Graffiti (even if their diners aren’t caravans either) Or maybe one of those really terrifying Films Noirs that aren’t set in the night or the city, but which usually involve deranged hitchhikers and escaped criminals kidnapping travelling salesmen in the scorching desert sun. Or maybe Sliding Doors, which was apparently actually filmed there, not that I remember anything about that movie save that the film makers clearly thought it was possible for John Hannah to run from the Albert Bridge to the City, via what looked suspiciously like Battersea, in ten minutes, and that no one would notice that the Waterloo-City Line doesn’t go to Upminster…

OK, so here’s the snag. Getting there. Normally, you’re going to have to either drive round via the Blackwall Tunnel or get a DLR to East India Dock from which it takes about 15 minutes to walk.
Every once in a while, on high days and holidays, Thames Clippers take pity on us and run a free shuttle boat from the 02 to Trinity Buoy Wharf. Keep an eye out for such events here and take advantage of them, because it will mean that everything else is open as well – artists’ studios, installations, etc. And the first weekend of every month, the very-odd-indeed tinging and bonging sound installation Longplayer by Jem Finer gives you the excuse to get inside the historic lighthouse. But that’s for another day…

2 Comments to “Fat Boy’s Diner”

  1. Anonymous says:

    These diners are typically found in the North East and not in the Midwest as you state; Mickey's Diner in downtown St Paul being a notable exception.

  2. tvnewswatch says:

    Is this still here. Amazing. I do remember it in Bishopsgate on the corner of Spital Square where it was sat on a patch of land that now has a large office block in its place. I not from your pictures they no longer have specially printed serviettes or napkins. They used to have the Fatboys logo with the slogan “fast at home-feast at fatboys”. Their business card which talked of “love at first bite” and “every bite is a delight” also advertised a take-away service.

    I clearly remember the shakes and Coke floats and the great fries. That was way back in 1993, so I’m kind of surprised they’ve survived especially after moving to such an isolated and almost impossible to get to location.

    Thanks for posting..