Foxy John’s calls itself an Irish bar, and it’s true that Guinness and Jameson flow there freely.
But the place looks like a sports bar, feels like a neighborhood watering hole and dishes out food that is more Cajun, Mexican or Italian than Irish.
So don’t bother stopping by for lunch or a midafternoon break if you’re hoping to wax nostalgic about a profligate youth spent drinking your way through Ireland. Rather, look for a pleasant place to hang out, with decent food, a nice ambiance, pop music playing softly in the background and a superattentive staff.
The entrance is obscured these days by major construction next door, but numerous signs show the way. Once inside, you’ll find friendly conversation along a bar lined with locals and at high tables served mercifully by stools with backs. In the back is an even calmer dining room. Upstairs is a second bar, mostly used for private parties, with a small porch open when weather permits.
Foxy John’s has way too many flat-screen TVs but the volume is turned off in the afternoon, and tranquillity prevails until the end of the workday, when the “background” music starts to blare and happy-hour high spirits take over.
The lighting is eye-friendly; the bathrooms spic and span. Don’t be surprised if a waiter visits your table two or three times to make sure you have everything you need, or the manager stops by to ask how things are going. During the day, most of the customers appear to be regulars who know the staff members by name and pause on the way in to catch up with the waitress who’s about to move to Ireland.
The menu is almost a parody of great American bar food: tacos and queso sticks next to teriyaki chicken, Cobb salad and fettuccine. Starters (most $10 to $12) include chicken wings and soft tacos with a choice of blackened chicken or fish. The Caesar salad ($7 as a starter, $12 as a main) has a welcome kick, and the fried calamari come in a cunning steel fry-basket with curry aioli and jalapeño tomato sauce on the side.
The best thing on the menu may be the spiced beef and chorizo burger ($13), a generous hunk of meat served rare and jacked up with ground chorizo. It’s topped with slivers of poblano pepper and crumbled feta cheese as well as the traditional lettuce, red onion, tomato slice and sour pickle wedge. It’s a spicy, gooey mess, and I mean that in the best way.
A blackened chicken sandwich on a ciabatta roll ($14) was also quite tasty, topped with a punchy chipotle mayo in a striking balance of crunch and ooze. All nine sandwiches on the menu ($12 to $19) — including a house-made veggie burger — come on metal trays rather than plates and are accompanied by fries with their skins intact. They’re good though could be crisper.
There are also six large plates and several daily specials on the menu, served on china and accompanied by sides like buttery mashed potatoes and garlic-flecked sautéed baby kale. A plate of grilled chicken, roasted potatoes and grilled veggies goes for $15; prices climb to $28 for a sirloin steak with fries. These dishes are served, superfluously, with humdrum rolls and butter.
Once you’ve ordered, your food is rushed to your table at a breakneck speed. Just 30 seconds after one waitress put down my grilled salmon ($16), she was back, wielding an oversize pepper grinder. Yes, I was happy, though secretly I wished the salmon were rarer and the mango-citrus glaze less glutinous.
The restaurant’s website touts $1 oyster specials, but these were not in evidence during my visits.
As you would expect, Foxy John’s beer menu is voluminous, offering 33 varieties, but it lists no prices. House cocktails are $10 to $12, and a limited selection of wines goes for $8 to $10 a glass, $30 to $37 a bottle. Mixed drinks and a small choice of beers are a bargain $5 at the bar.
Foxy John’s is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. It is located at 143 E. 47th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues. (646) 838-5534
Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.