The corridor that stretches from George’s Street (the “south” and “great” are assumed) to Rathmines, one of Deirdre Kelly’s celebrated “Four Roads to Dublin”, offers not exactly all that life can afford, but a decent starter pack. It’ll certainly take your money. The midsection, the Camden Quarter if we must, has a good density of places doing the important work of providing food and booze. If there have to my mind been more misses than hits among recent arrivals, there’s enough variety and energy along the strip that you’ll find somewhere that suits.
Today we’re stepping a bit off the main thoroughfare and down Camden Lane, which separates Whelan’s from Ryan’s and is where the entrance to the Whelan’s music venue is found. On a corner here is the Crafty Fox, promised since last September and finally opened in the closing weeks of 2019.
To what degree this really counts as a new opening is something of an ecumenical matter. This is another part of the Whelan’s / Opium complex, overlapping and intersecting through their outdoor areas, and forms another component of the Mercantile Group which is a fairly heavy hitter on the Dublin scene. Differently-branded and styled rooms within the same building are not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes you well aware that each one is unlikely to be a true labour of love.
The Crafty Fox positions itself as a “back to basics bar” – I wasn’t really aware that the basics had ever gone away – and it certainly looks the part. The exterior with its complementary colours and matching awnings is beautifully in keeping with the cosy red-brick terrace, the centre storefront featuring the name in the painted drop-shadow script seen on many of the best aul lads’ pubs in town. Passing trade, there is none – it is on the way to the Meath hospital, but if that’s where you’re going you probably have other priorities. It’s a quiet evening in a dry month but nonetheless it remains almost deserted throughout my visit.
Inside, it is all snugs and alcoves, the sort of small and intimate drinking spaces there can never be enough of. There is plenty of nice dark wood, some of the retro patterned wallpaper that characterises the Parlour Bar upstairs at Whelan’s next door, and the usual clatter of books and prints around the place. “A few square meters of character, please, my good man.” I think this is rather spoiled by a row of illuminated, brightly-coloured beer taps but that seems to be the way of the world. The selection isn’t bad, representing Drogheda’s Boyne Brewhouse, experimental outfit Wild Beer from the UK, prolific white-labellers Rascals in Inchicore, and one of my favourites, Donegal’s Kinnegar. I choose a “Scraggy Bay” from the last; it’s an IPA that has a fair amount of complexity without tasting too much of the smell of a randy dog fox. Crafty or otherwise. It needs to be fresh and well cared for, and it is.
I consult the cocktail menu, which is so aggressively Dublin-themed I start considering where I’ll plant my nine bean-rows. There’s the “Suckin’ Diesel”, a sort of a Mule made with Roe & Co whiskey and red lemonade reduction. A “Head the Ball” D.W.D whiskey sour with a “jam” made from Jacob’s Fig Rolls. I watch as the barkeep constructs an “Oul Fella” and bemoans the viscosity of the Werther’s Original syrup. I can think of a way this problem could be mitigated.
While I’m here I’ll have to give one of them a go. Judging by its ingredients the “Jesus, Mary & Joseph” looks like a house variant on an Old Fashioned, built on a backbone of Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition, with bitters and an IPA reduction. There are a lot of reductions on this menu. Some of them ad absurdum. In this case it’s – thankfully – not really a reduction, which would be bitter beyond belief, but more of an IPA simple syrup. Either way, I find the flavour weirdly artificial and unpleasantly lingering, and the sweetness is cloying. It’s clear what the cocktail menu is trying to do, but I think it needs a bit of refinement.
The Crafty Fox doesn’t feel like it’s going to put itself emphatically on the map any time soon. It could be a perfectly acceptable spot for a civilised pint or several, and I can see it being a welcome bolt-hole when town is thronged, or a decent meeting or starting point. Perhaps that’ll do.
Words: Ben Walsh
37-38 Camden Row