One of the oldest restaurants in San Diego, going back to the 1950s, is The Red Fox Steakhouse and Piano Bar on El Cajon Boulevard in the historic Lafayette Hotel. It’s an old-school steakhouse, and in fact had its origin in an Olde English steakhouse and pub outside London from centuries ago.
2200 El Cajon Boulevard, University Heights
According to the restaurant’s website, “The Red Fox Room was an old inn in Surrey, England and dates from around 1560. The Tudor paneling and the fireplace with its finely carved mantel bear the date of 1642. The three arched panels tell the story of Rebecca and Isaac as found in Genesis, Chapters 24 and 27.”
How this historic décor ended up in a San Diego eatery is a story in itself. The Red Fox Room in England was purchased by William Randolph Hearst and dismantled in 1926. It was shipped to California and reassembled for the Marion Davies “Ocean House” mansion Hearst was building on the beach in Santa Monica for his longtime mistress. The architect for the beach house was Julia Morgan, also the architect for San Simeon, a.k.a Hearst Castle.
The Davies property sold in the 1950s, and most of the building was destroyed. At some point, the Red Fox Room was removed from the mansion, and placed into storage. Part of the restored mansion remains today as the Marion Davies Guest House, at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica. It can be visited for free; no reservations are required.
Owned by the Demos family since 1966, the restaurant is now managed by Jim Demos after his father retired. In a recent visit, Demos explained that the décor from the Davies house was purchased at an auction by an individual who created bar/restaurants. That’s how it ended up in San Diego.
Demos said he had no plans to move from the Lafayette. Then he was told his lease, ending in March 2019, would not be renewed. I asked if that was a matter of money. Demos said the rent would likely be doubled by Lafayette, from about $10,000 a month to $20,000. There was no way they could continue operating with that raise in rent, Demos added.
Demos decided to move to a nearby location. Just across El Cajon Boulevard was a small structure next to the Exotic Gardens luxury apartment complex housing a hair salon; it become available for sale after the salon moved out. Demos purchased the property. He said the Exotic Gardens developer had wanted the property, but it wasn’t for sale when they bought the former cactus and succulents business located there.
Demos said he will be building a new structure, but possibly keeping some of the building’s walls. He said the plan is to recreate the Red Fox Room as much as they can. It will remain dark inside, like the current place. They will hire movers to dismantle the antique features.
Demos says he expects most of his regulars to follow over to the new location next year. He expects construction to take “three to four months.”
What are the Lafayette Hotel’s plans? Dieter Hissin, general manager of the Lafayette, told me they don't know yet what they’ll do with the space afterward.