Bartender, another round: Red Fox steakhouse in North Park reopens two years after closing

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The Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood reopens on Monday after two years of closure — but it won’t be in the same location.

Located on El Cajon Boulevard for more than half a century, the original restaurant had to close in 2020 when its lease in the historic Hotel Lafayette building was not renewed. The hotel has since been sold to a major San Diego restaurant group that has yet to disclose plans for the former Red Fox space.

For memory :

10:30 a.m. on March 21, 2022An earlier version of this story had the incorrect address of Red Fox Steakhouse. The correct address is 2200 El Cajon Blvd.

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Red Fox owner Jim Demos said it didn’t take him long to find a new home for his restaurant – directly across from the old location – but the new dining room and bar took two years to end. The restaurant’s departure from its original location was announced in 2018 but the final call to the bar has been pushed back month after month after month. The arrival of the pandemic in March 2020 marked the official closure of Red Fox, as everything else was shut down.

March is an important month in the history of Red Fox, said Demos, who also manages the restaurant.

March 16, 2020 is when the Red Fox permanently closed its doors at the Lafayette, and now, two years later, on March 21, the Red Fox will open its new space across the road.

“I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 17,” Demos said. “I was a busboy and I did all that stuff. I was a waiter. I was a restaurant manager for a big chain.

But Demos says nothing he’s done before can compare to that reopening experience.

“It seems like nothing is easy, but anything worthwhile usually isn’t,” he said.

Jim Demos, owner of Red Fox Steakhouse & Piano Bar prepares for reopening on March 21 after being closed for more than two years in North Park on March 17, 2022.

(Ariana Drehsler/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

While a move across the road might seem convenient, it wasn’t an easy lift.

In the weeks leading up to the reopening, Demos said he and his wife often pulled 12 hours a day to get everything ready. He added that his wife’s hands were stained after refinishing so many dark wood cabins.

Sure, some things have moved on, but Demos said he’s adamant about keeping the same “vibe” and look of the place.

Demos’ father John, who turns 91 next month, opened the North Park spot on May 25, 1966. Jim Demos took over after his father’s retirement and has run it for nearly two decades.

Some of the decoration of the original Red Fox Restaurant actually dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. According to the steakhouse’s website, parts of the original Red Fox Room, a former inn in Surrey, England, circa 1560, were incorporated into the El Cajon Boulevard restaurant years after the actress had shipped them to the United States. Marion Davis.

The intricate dark wood carving from 1642 was placed on the fireplace on Thursday. Demos said he used part of the old bar to make a hall table. The ‘Red Fox’ stained glass window on the old front door has been moved inside and once again welcomes people entering the bar.

Demos thought one of the biggest challenges of reopening was going to be attracting employees, but that wasn’t the case as nearly all of its former staff had returned.

“We feel very lucky to have so many employees who really waited,” he said. “I know the carvings are 400 years old, the paneling is 150 years old, it’s a cool place. But the employees are probably the greatest asset we have.

Louie Centanni, a North Park-based college professor, said “everything is old but in a good way” at Red Fox. The place has a vintage vibe, from the red leather booths to the music straight out of a Hollywood film noir.

“I’m not that old…I’m only in my thirties, but it makes you feel like you’re in a different era – like Dean Martin and Sinatra are just across the bar,” Centanni said. .

He’s been going there since 2003 and said the Red Fox has become his ‘Cheers’ – a place where he meets up with his best friends, some of whom are over 80, and it’s become like a second home.

“I can’t wait to have a place to go sing and see the regulars, we’re all looking forward to hanging out again. And we’ve lost a few during COVID so we want to celebrate their lives together,” Centanni said. .

Dennis Gittens, 43, didn’t always think of himself as a musician, but the Red Fox became the backdrop for his development as a jazz singer after he started going there in 2014.

By day, the La Mesa resident owns a commercial electrician business, but he can’t wait to get back to singing with his friends.

“The place is dimly lit – it’s relaxing as soon as you walk in because of that,” he said. “Usually the music plays quietly in the back, there are a handful of noises in various places at different volumes.”

For him, the North Park Piano Bar is not just a place to sing. He said some people come just to watch TV.

“You walk in and there’s so much that I don’t have to fit into any kind of box, that’s the scene you want,” Gittens said. “You walk around different parts of the bar and can participate or not at whatever level you want.”

Bartender Ralph Delgado of Red Fox Steakhouse & Piano Bar works behind the bar to get it ready for reopening.

The Red Fox Steakhouse & Piano Bar in North Park on March 17, 2022.

(Ariana Drehsler/For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Like a classic car with a new engine under its hood, the revitalized Red Fox at 2200 El Cajon Blvd. still seems to have its old-fashioned charm.

Some of the updates might not be obvious to bargoers – from new plumbing and electrical wiring to a more open entrance, which are welcome changes that Demos says will help the restaurant run more efficiently.

Drinks will continue to be generous and Red Fox’s surf and turf-style menu will remain the same, with the exception of crab legs due to supply chain issues, Demos said.

He said he’s always made it a point to keep menu prices affordable and neighborhood-appropriate over the years. But considering inflation, the price is the only thing he reluctantly had to change.

“Some things like lobster have skyrocketed in price,” Demos said. “So that’s about the only real negative thing…we had to adjust the prices.”

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