Ashley Christensen’s underground bar has a new menu and hours, plus a makeover! We got first look.
As told to Ayn-Monique Klahre | photographs by Lauren V. Allen
When Ashley Christensen opened Fox Liquor Bar in 2012, it was among the first in Raleigh to harness the craft cocktail wave. The subterranean bar was cozy and dimly-lit, a favorite for a date-night or after-dinner drink. It closed during the pandemic, and over the last few years, Christensen has been rethinking the space and how she’d like it to function in the Raleigh scene. Good news: it reopens on May 19, with hours to be announced next week! We spoke to Christensen about the upcoming reopening of Fox — and got a first look at the revamped space and updated menu!
What was the vision when Fox Liquor Bar first opened?
Before the opening of Fox, the only craft cocktail bar in the downtown area was the aptly named Foundation Bar, as they truly are the foundation of the craft bar scene in Raleigh! I had been traveling a ton, and I loved visiting bars in other cities that were dedicated to making ingredient- and technique-driven cocktail experiences. For the first time in my life, the details of the drinks felt as important as, and parallel in intensity to, the way we as chefs make dishes and recipes. Like my work in the kitchen, the drinks I was most moved by were based on the classics, but with fresh new tweaks and turns.
I loved the rooms and drinks I came across, so my goal for Fox was to have an offering of excellent cocktails in a unique room, in this case, the basement of a 1940’s Piggly Wiggly. It would be like a speakeasy, but without the vibe of exclusivity.
What was it like deciding to close back in 2020?
It was hard. Closing anything is hard, but especially with all of the unknowns and the knowns of that strange time), but it was also an easy calculation. It was a subterraneous, windowless space with darker design vibes that was open late at a time when people were scared to be indoors. Our resources were low, and we focused them on the places where we could fit the needs and comfort level of the public at that time.
Why did you decide to reopen now?
It’s a little bit like opening a restaurant in the first place… it just feels right. When I bought the lease to Poole’s, my first restaurant, I had the same feeling I have right now about opening Fox… There are folks who enthusiastically wanna be a part of this work, and the city is ready for it. We are far more analytical of our process as a company at this point, so as energetic as we have been to share the new version of this space and concept, we have really taken our time, and every second has counted towards rolling out a thoughtful space that speaks to the well-rounded experiential wants and needs of our staff, guests, and greater community.
Over the past few years, what has influenced your thinking about what this incarnation of Fox could be?
A number of factors, for sure. We will be opening earlier and closing by midnight. This feels like a better fit to reach a broader audience who can engage with the more diversified offerings of the space. Like many people, I no longer drink alcohol. The menu at Fox will have a number of offerings that celebrate great ingredients and technique but are zero-proof. All of the cocktails are super fun and I think they really speak to afternoon and evening vibes equally. The food menu has some really fun bar food hits, but lots of other great sustaining dishes for lunch or mid afternoon snacking. I think that folks are always looking for cool meeting spaces beyond the excellent coffee shops in our city. Fox will be an awesome fit for that. As someone who has a ton of meetings all week, this is not an accident.
In terms of food and beverage, what can guests expect at Fox now?
There are still amazing, well-crafted cocktails — that will always be our baseline. Want a delicious daiquiri or Manhattan? Our team has got you covered. But then there are also some fun wine and beer options, and the zero-proof cocktails I mentioned. For food, we created a new menu that strengthens the relationship with Beasley’s upstairs, while also being its own thing. Fans of our former burger spot, Chuck’s, will be excited to see the veggie burger and the bologna sandwich from the Chuck’s menu taking on new life at Fox.
How have the interiors changed?
So Fox was named for my father, when he was still living. He was always infused in the spirit of my intentions for the space. That said, the space never truly found its identity, or at least an identity that felt genuine and true to what I wanted people to feel in the space. It was a great bar, but something was missing for me.
My dad lived at the tip of the North Fork of Long Island for the last 30 years of his life, in a town named Greenport. It’s a beautiful and salty little seaside township, and he adored it. He wasn’t a Long Islander, he was a North Forker! He passed during the pandemic. As we boxed up his home, I gathered lots of his artwork and mementos of his life, like paintings and photos of the Peconic Bay and the Long Island Sound and its stewards, and autographed concert bills and posters (his autographed Leon Russel photo being his pride and joy).
With the help of Jamie Meares of Kilt Creative, we’ve spiffed up lighting, wall coverings and furnishings.
And selfishly, I finally got the shuffleboard table that I always wanted for my bar!
In what other ways is Fox a tribute to your father’s memory?
Well, there are the obvious design pieces that represent his life, and I love that. It’s a special thing to have a space where those items can shine on, and all under the sign that reads the nickname that stuck since he was such a handsome teenager… Fox.
My father had a lot of pride for me as a person, for my accomplishments, and for my ability, when challenged, to dust myself off, shift the lens for some new perspective, and give it another go. I think reopening Fox as a space more fitting to the needs of our community, and more genuinely celebratory of our experiences and lessons learned as the hosts of the space, is the tribute that would make him proudest.
What do you hope people experience when they return to Fox — or head in for the first time this spring?
I hope they find a place that makes them want to hang for a while, it’s meant to feel well-loved and lived in. A little bit more cozy and casual, but beautiful — a little bit of a refuge from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
This article originally appeared on waltermagazine.com on May 8, 2023.