By Kellie Hwang
There's a new Irish pub in town, but the owners prefer you call it by its proper name: a public house.
Robbie Fox's Public House on Mill Avenue opened on Feb. 5, touting itself as one of the most authentic Irish bars in the Valley. It took over a 5,000 square-foot spot that has been vacant for more than 8 years, next door to Churchill's Fine Cigars.
“In Ireland, pubs are very welcoming and neighborhood places, where people can go to have a cup of coffee or a beer,” said Dominic Jones, one of the owners. “It's a public house - it's for everybody. The term ‘pub' in America is usually alcohol-related, and we want people to know that they don't have to come in just to drink.”
The bar is named after one of the five owners. Johnnie Fox's is the name of a famous pub in Ireland, and the owners wanted to pay homage to the bar and also provide a catchy name.
The Irish influences can be seen all over Robbie Fox's. Customers just need to look around the wood-covered space at its rusty orange and spring green accents, shiny aluminum ceiling and walls filled with photos and posters, and they are likely staring at a piece of history.
Down the hallway of the entrance on a post is a framed story about the back bar, which at first glance looks as though it could belong in any bar. In the center a mirror reads “Dispensing Department” and there is a large crack on one side.
In 1921, a pub called Shanahan's in Dublin, Ireland, was a hotspot for members of the Irish Republican Army. John J. Ryan, a British Intelligence officer went to the pub hoping to capture the IRA's top man, Michael Collins. While waiting, Ryan was ambushed by Collins' hit men and the mirror on the back bar was cracked amid the chaos. Many years later, Jones said a friend of his found the back bar in a hay shed last year and restored it.
Jones said about 80 percent of the furnishings come from Ireland, and he has been collecting décor for about 20 years. Other relics include old framed Irish movie and war posters, and a long, leather bench running along the entrance hall from Ireland. One section of the ceiling is made out of stamped tin sheets, a feature that can be seen in pubs all over Ireland. The wooden tables are especially big so guests have plenty of space to spread out and feel at home.
It's important to the owners of Robbie Fox's to not become the typical rowdy college bar.
“There are plenty of bars that cater to the college crowd looking for 50-cent beers and those who want to get crazy, but that's not us,” said Jones. “We just want people to feel comfortable and enjoy some great bands on a Saturday night.”
Being an authentic Irish public house also means making it affordable.
“We are not trying to gouge anyone,” said Jones. “We don't have a cover charge, and won't either on St. Patrick's Day, because it's just like any other day and traditional pubs don't do that.”
Patrons can find Guinness, Murphy's Irish stout and Magners Irish cider, and specialty cocktails like the Celtic Cosmo, made with Stoli vodka, triple sec, rose water, lime and cranberry juice. General manager Mike Aiton stresses that the single malt whiskeys come in hearty two-ounce pours, about half of an ounce more than most bars.
Traditional Irish music and classic jazz tunes float through the cozy bar during lunch and happy hour. On Friday and Saturday nights, live bands perform on a small raised stage at the back of the bar, and the line-up features about 60 percent of Irish acts, and the rest a mixture of local and out of town bands. The sprawling patio features its own bar and plenty of green checkered tables for warm desert nights.
Robbie Fox's closest competition would naturally be the popular Rula Bula, but neither owner seems worried.
“I think it will probably have the same impact on us as Darcy Magee's, which is negligible,” said Steve Goumas, owner of Rula Bula. “They are a different restaurant from us and I don't think it will affect our business.”
Whether or not people think the pub is the most authentic in the Valley is subjective, but the staff hopes people notice it embraces an important Irish quality.
“The bar has the essence of what the Irish call Craic, which is basically a term for really having a good time, drinking and enjoying the company of friends,” Aiton said.