Review: Fox & Hounds in Richmond Heights

As much as I can’t stand the dreary calling cards of a St. Louis winter – sub-zero temps, ice storms, pale skin, utter boredom – I still look forward to the way a long sip from a tumbler of neat Scotch eases in a warm buzz on a bone-chilling night. Stepping in from the howling wind to grab a drink and fall into a deep chair by the fire at The Fox & Hounds Tavern, I can certainly think of worse places to be.

Minus a recent hiatus, the cracking fire in the hearth of Fox & Hounds has been warming up patrons on cold winter nights for 80-plus years. A renowned hot spot for visiting celebs and St. Louis bigwigs, the tavern has seen its share of wild nights. Following a change in ownership and menu redesign, the ribbon was sliced on the new Cheshire this summer. Luckily for Anglophiles like me, the old English pub décor came out of mothballs seemingly untouched. The tavern looks as it always did – oozing Old-World, masculine charm.

By 9 o’clock on a Friday night, the eight or so barstools at Fox & Hounds are nearly always occupied. Watching patrons trickle in and queue up for a pint, it’s hard not to feel like you’re in a hunting lodge – cramped seating, stuffed animal heads, frames of old British weaponry and all. The tight space is dimly lit aside from the snapping flames of the colossal stone fireplace throwing light on the planked wood and worn leather. Aged and smartly chosen, the décor serves as a backdrop to the social scene of a new generation of Cheshire enthusiasts.

Like any proper English pub, conversation and alcohol take center stage. An occasional live jazz duet picks up here and there, throwing even more of a laid-back, casual vibe onto the night. And not unlike most British saloons, Fox & Hounds mingles patrons of all ages and tax brackets. The lobby might be holding a group of baby boomers dressed in black-tie sipping Johnny Walker, while a few hip, penniless undergrads are running their parents’ credits cards for beer inside. Fox & Hounds also remains a prime pickup bar for St. Louis’ upwardly mobile. It’s normal to spot a few of the see-and-be-seen types milling about and eyeing each other from behind their cocktail straws or bumming cigarettes by the outside fire pit in the courtyard.

The bartenders utilize a wide range of Scotches and American- or Irish-made whiskeys, along with a well-worn list of wines by the glass. As with the décor, the booze is traditional. Lots of Manhattans, whiskey sours and Old Fashioneds are mixed up. Nothing froufrou, though the occasional brave soul will call for one of the infamous yard glasses to be plucked from the wall and filled to the brim with smooth, frothy ale. Those aiming for a pint can choose from a nominal draft menu of half a dozen imports and microbrews including Urban Chestnut Winged Nut Ale and Schlafly Pale Ale. Ample refrigeration space provides a much broader selection of bottles – foreign and domestic standards – but it’s hard to say no to the gorgeously oversized, 16-ounce glass chalices used for the Stella pours.

The disappointment, though, is in the total lack of a proper drink menu. Aside from an extensive wine list, patrons are deprived of signature drinks or seasonal comforts like whiskey toddies, hot buttered rums and mulled ciders. These would be the perfect drinking companions to the cabin-like atmosphere and were an extremely popular order during the bar’s prior reign. Another large draw that’s no more: that 3 a.m. close time. While The Cheshire was the saving grace for barhoppers hoping to suck down a few more cocktails after the Clayton bars shuffle everyone out around 1 a.m., the city of Richmond Heights mandated that last call at the new Fox & Hounds comes around 1 a.m. on weekends, 1:30 if you’re lucky. One last hitch: Getting consistent service can be tricky. Best advice once the crowd thickens: Take slower sips. Or start double-fisting because, even with an open tab and a good seat, it becomes something of a frustration to get the attention of the quickly overwhelmed (and surprisingly self-important) bar staff.

Service issues aside, Fox & Hounds remains a standard – a classic, intimate, casual lounge with astute attention to detail. Rumor has it that summer 2012 will see the reopening of Cheshire’s larger bar (hopefully with a drink menu) in the adjacent building, along with a restaurant. This is great news in itself, but it’s nice to know I’ll have a more than decent pub to grab a tall one and wait out the cold.

The Fox & Hounds Tavern
The Cheshire, 6300 Clayton Road, Richmond Heights, 314. 647.7300

Why go? A local legend reopens with same ol’ masculine charm

Tags : Cocktails, Places, Reviews, Wine, Beer, Bars