Red Fox Steak House Continues San Diego Legacy as Lafayette Hotel's Restaurant
The people who work here say it’s true: the Red Fox Steak House, a drive-by reminder from the day when El Cajon Boulevard was San Diego’s main drag, started life 400 years earlier in England as a pub in Surrey. In 1926, it was dismantled and the umber interior walls were shipped to the West Coast at the behest of a film star named Marion Davies. For a time, those old medieval accents served as the interior of her private home, Ocean House.
When Ocean House was sold and made into a hotel in the late 1950s, the Red Fox was once again dismantled and moved, first to storage, then to its final address as the ground floor steak house in the luxurious Lafayette Hotel.
Otherwise, nothing has changed much since John Demos bought the restaurant in 1966. Stepping in from the glare of the Boulevard, it takes a minute for one’s eyes to adjust to the velvety dark. The air feels different. Time almost stops. And in many ways, it has. The Red Fox Steak House is one of the survivors from a genteel era that has gone the way of the dial phone.
It comes as no surprise that there is, in fact, a rotary telephone at the reservations desk, a red plastic relic that rings with the sound of generations past.
“This came from my grandfather’s garage,” says the hostess.
John Demos turned 80 and has since retired, but he still comes in every day says his son Jim, who has managed the operation for the past six years. Ask the younger man what he likes most about coming to work here and he is quick with an answer.
“That it never changes.”
But the rest of the world, including the Lafayette Hotel, has changed around it. For example, at one time the Red Fox was once ground zero for Charger fans. “The Charger ticket office was inside the Hotel before they built the stadium.”
The piano bar is another long-gone tradition that was once the center of gravity for an earlier generation of night clubbers. But the Red Fox still runs theirs seven nights a week. That, cheap cocktails, and budget-priced steak dinners serve as a draw for a people-watcher’s delight of North Park neighborhood types. “We say diverse. It’s 21 to 91,” says Demos, “and everybody gets along.”
If anything, the dress code is more relaxed. “Back then, when the place opened in the 1950s, people dressed up to go out to eat. They wore suits and ties and nice dresses. Now, it’s become more casual.” Jeans and a t shirt will work, he says.
Jim Demos has no plans to change anything, except maybe install a new carpet he says, and then he smiles. “Some day.”
Fridays and Saturdays the Red Fox serves until 1am.