The Secret Drinker reviews Johnny Foxes in Inverness
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This week I have introduced several shattering breaks with Secret Drinker tradition as I move from one beloved city institution in the Market Bar to another in Johnny Foxes.
The first is that for my deeply researched pub probe I emerged almost as sober as when I entered, to my chagrin and surprise. We live in modern times with discussions of a well-being economy and a four-day week. So it is understandable that I tried to go all 1970s and have a liquid lunch.
Shockingly my editor, silent master of typo correction (most of the time), a very nice man from Lancashire who supports Huddersfield City, decided this was not my best idea, so it was a brief visit this time.
Hunky Highland heroes know
The second was that I broke the golden rule – which all hunky Highland heroes know: eating is cheating. That said it was an interesting experience drinking on a full stomach, not one I could entirely recommend but to each their own.
Finally, I left my erstwhile wingman at home because digestive issues meant that straying more than five panicked strides from the toilet posed a “severe risk” that he may do an impression of an exploding hippopotamus.
So, on my tod, I entered Foxes – presumably named in honour of Ireland’s highest pub – which celebrated one quarter of a century in business last year leading me to think they must be doing something right.
Local away from home feel
Firstly, who has not at one time or another been to Foxes? More people have been through Foxes over the years than the bus station and so it has a kind of local away from home feel for some.
The pub does have a lovely warm feel to it.
The website accurately says that it is "finished with Caithness stone, Ballachulish slate, pine and oak wood, creating a traditional and relaxed environment to catch up with friends and enjoy the best of the Highland hospitality".
Now there are pluses and minuses to that but essentially from past experience it is not the top pick for anyone’s night out, nor is it the last resort – but it often becomes the one and only place everyone can agree on.
The late licence might have something to do with when I was young and flexible enough to listen to other drunk people talk but now I prefer Fidel Castroing (talking unpunctuated for hours).
And Foxes is, as I remember, great for that. You can rock up at any time and wonder if the bouncer will be friendly or fiercely sarcastic, I have a perfect talent for managing to end up the poor soul beaming vacuously at the latter.
It gets boozy pretty fast, the queues grow and on each and every occasion I have been there it has been packed, packed at the bar, packed on the way to the toilet and everywhere else.
On the day that I arrived, I consumed a lovely cider to go with my Nessie burger and sat in one of the cosy booths next to the window bitterly glaring at the people on the benches outside.
Surprisingly for a beer garden that is right on a busy road, the traffic isn’t overly disturbing and it certainly doesn’t put anyone off sitting there, least of all me, while offering the potential to make harassed commuters jealous of you sipping away.
Like so many other venues, a beer garden makes a place for me and anywhere without any outdoor seating is a major negative. That is because as I get later into an evening I do like to take a dram outside for a moment of mindfulness – time for home or another, am I utterly inebriated?
Don Lawson, who also owns Jimmy Badgers, which I raved about, has clearly got his staff to do their jobs well – I was shown to a table promptly, I was served fast, and didn’t pester but were observant in case I needed anything.
Now the burger was good but it wasn’t £15.50 good, even though that is the going rate these days in most pubs so I am not trying to single out Foxes, but to be honest I have had better elsewhere.
I think that you really notice a good meal when you finish and think, I am already looking forward to the next time I come here because that was delicious. Don’t get me wrong: the burger was good.
Fantastic, enduring, well-run Inverness classic
What Foxes is and what it is not is important to understand. I have previously considered largely local pubs, that serve a specific clientele and those who come in by chance once or twice and then may not for months or never again.
Foxes is a classic city centre pub, they aim to make the service short and sweet and get you what you asked for as quickly and efficiently as possible so it is not possible to compare it accurately with say the Market Bar or the Castle Tavern.
So the fact is you will not get as personal a service or experience as other places I have mentioned but what it does, it does well and it is a good place to go and you will rarely if ever be disappointed, I certainly haven’t been.
There are gigs almost every night according to the website and that does make the place lively though that is hardly needed; when I was there at 2pm it was already getting raucous, mildly raucous but is that a bad thing?
Well, it is not for everyone but the fact is that this is one of the best bars to go to for a really busy noisy night out.
What I can tell you is that I will go back again, and again, and again, and again. They also pour an excellent pint – and that if they don’t have it behind the bar, then it is probably not worth drinking.
So, this fantastic, enduring, well-run Inverness classic by the river should be known to all – if it isn't already!