My Pub: The Fox, Birmingham

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

What does the Fox say? pub licensee Andy King has plenty of events going on for his customers
What does the Fox say? pub licensee Andy King has plenty of events going on for his customers

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Andy King has been at the helm of the Fox on Lower Essex Street in Birmingham since 1997 and is the longest serving publican in the city’s gay village.

The Fox has been operating as a gay bar for almost three decades and its strapline is ‘the little gay bar with the big gay heart, where everyone is welcome’.

Here, King tells The Morning Advertiser more about the Fox.

The pub

The Fox is one of the last remaining Victorian pubs in Birmingham’s gay village and I lease it from Star Pubs & Bars.

When I took it on in 1997, it was a very dated-looking lesbian bar. Over the years, it has evolved into a traditional local that provides a safe, welcoming space for the whole LGBTQ+ community of all ages.

This gives it a point of difference from other gay bars in the area, which tend to cater for the younger party club crowds.

Facts ’n’ stats

Name:​ the Fox

Address:​ 17 Lower Essex Street, Birmingham, B5 6SN

Licensee:​ Andy King


I change things every five years or so to keep the pub fresh. The last revamp was during the pandemic when murals of gay icons were painted around the top of the walls in the bar. You can spot new customers because they stand in the middle of the pub trying to name them all.

It’s a great icebreaker and conversation starter. We’re one of the only gay bars in Birmingham to have a pool room and it adds to the community feel. It’s decorated in an American style and, when regulars go on holiday abroad, they often bring back a baseball cap to hang on the ceiling. People love the caps and they’re another talking point.

Before Covid, the courtyard garden was nice but not a big feature; many people didn’t even know it existed. During lockdown, I built a stage there, painted the furniture in rainbow colours and installed heating, lighting and covers.

The investment paid off and introduced lots of new people to the Fox when pubs reopened for outside trade only. The garden is now used year-round, accommodates more people than the pub and holds entertainment every Saturday night. It’s one of the reasons we’re busier than pre-pandemic.

I’ve got a strong relationship with Star and leasing a pub is a good arrangement for me. It enables me to have my own business in a great location with support when needed but without any of the hassle or major expense of property ownership.  

The publican

I got the bug for working in hospitality as a teenager growing up in Nuneaton.

My dad was chairman of the local working men’s club and I helped out in the bar bottling up and clearing glasses.  

After school, I trained as a chef and then worked in Germany, Switzerland and Bermuda before returning in 1988 to work as a manager for Harvester.

The Fox main image MY PUB
Licensee Andy King

At that time, it was a little company that had just started up and was bringing a new American style of service to the UK. I learnt a lot there, including the importance of monitoring the competition. I still do that today – it’s essential to keeping ahead of the game.

I spent more than 10 years with Harvester. Towards the end, I combined it with running my first leased pub with a partner for a short while before striking out to go it alone at the Fox.

The Fox is my baby and I still enjoy the job just as much as when I started out.

My regulars are like family – I’m godfather to quite a few of their children.

Since the law changed 10 years ago, I’ve been to a lot of the Fox customers’ weddings. This year alone, I’m attending three weddings and, the first year it was legalised, I went to nine.

I’m an old-fashioned ‘mine host’ and love getting to know customers and talking to them. People are always telling me how much they appreciate it and how it makes the Fox stand out.

The Fox pool table and caps

Being in the business the whole time, also means I’m really in touch with customers and what they want.

I’ve got nine years to go on my lease and no plans to retire anytime soon.

The trade

The Fox is wet-led and 90% of our business is from the LGBTQ+ community. The remaining 10% are their straight friends and other straight customers who like the friendly atmosphere of the Fox and what we offer.

I know the pattern of trade in the area and only open when it is profitable to do so. Our opening hours are 5pm to 12am on Thursdays, 3pm to 2am Fridays and Saturdays and from 3pm to 12pm on Sundays. We’re closed from Monday to Wednesday.

The team

The Fox has six part-time staff. When I’m interviewing [for staff], I look for chatty people who are outgoing and have an innate understanding of hospitality.

They also need basic maths skills because I’ve still got an old-fashioned till. Around half of staff members are students and two have been with me for more than 10 years.

I want everyone to enjoy working at the Fox as much as I do and try to be a good boss.

the fox interior bar and table

We work together as a team, and I do the same jobs as them. I give lots of praise when it’s due and we all have a drink together at the end of the night.

What's on the menu?

Jugs of cocktails:​ flavours include - Cheeky Vimto - vodka, peach schnapps, orange & cranberry juice; Caribbean Stallion - white rum, pineapple, coconut rum & grenadine - £16

Cocktails:​ flavours include Berry Bramble - gin, sours & creme de cassis; Foxy Lady - vodka, amaretto & pineapple juice - £9 or two for £16

Shots:​ flavours include Toblerone - amaretto & chocolate liqueur; Daddy Twist - Sheep Dog peanut butter whisky liqueur & Irish cream; Kill Bill - black Sambuca & limoncello - £4 each or 4 for £12

Foxy baps:​ cheese & onion or ham - £1.50

I draw up the rota monthly, in advance, based on the dates staff tell me they’re free to work.

This goes down well, giving them the ability to plan their lives and fit their work in round other commitments. Customers are constantly remarking on the friendliness of the team, and I never have to advertise for staff, as people ask me for jobs.

The drink

Our biggest sellers are spirits and cocktails. Customers used to go for value but now they would rather pay more and have a brand.

About 95% of our drinks are premiumised. We only use unbranded spirits for cocktails and jugs to keep them more affordable.

The Fox garden

We serve 14 cocktails, all made from scratch to order. We pride ourselves on selling the freshest Mojito in the gay village, picking the mint from our garden.

On the draught front, customers are loving our low alcohol and alcohol-free selection, and Heineken 00 and alcohol-free Old Mout are particularly popular.

The food

The Fox is a wet-led pub but people go mad for our Foxy baps. They come individually wrapped in two flavours – ham and cheese & onion.

I make them myself using Warburton’s baps, honey roast ham, good-quality cheddar cheese and proper sliced onion.

The events

We’re known for our entertainment and we nurture and showcase up and coming LGBTQ+ musicians and entertainers from across the region.

On Friday nights, it’s Foxeoke; on Saturday nights, we put on acoustic music (I have eight acts that I rotate in two monthly cycles); and on Sunday we show early doors drag acts or have a sing-along karaoke.

The Fox King with certificate
King with his 25-year long-service certificate

As our ‘little gay bar with the big gay heart’ strapline suggests, a lot of our activities are focused on backing the LGBTQ+ community.

I helped staged the first Birmingham Pride in 1997. The Fox participates every year; it’s our biggest event.

We have a group for customers’ children called the Fox Cubs, and they march in the parade.

I also co-founded the campaign to create an HIV Memorial in Birmingham and the pub did a lot of fundraising for that. Now it’s up, we’re raising money for an offshoot HIV educational outreach programme in the region’s schools.

Like any good local, we host social groups to bring people together including a monthly Tuesday meeting for mature gay men. We also sponsor Birmingham Swifts LGBT running club and Birmingham Blaze FC, an LGBT+ team, who meet up at the Fox.

The Fox name that star on the wall

The future

Running the Fox is central to my life and I absolutely love it, so I’ve no plans to take a second pub. There’s no space to expand the inside or the outside of the Fox.

Therefore, looking to the future, my focus will be on maintaining and growing the business by constantly adapting what I offer to customers’ changing tastes and by identifying additional opportunities to boost sales, for example by putting on new events.

Trade is up 25% since the pandemic and I hope I can increase it further. Two ideas already in the pipeline are a quarterly girls social event run in conjunction with Women of Pride and a free monthly Sunday afternoon/early evening party called ‘Daddy’s Pop Up Party’ that I’ll host. Each will have different theme and the emphasis will be on having fun.

I’m a big believer in giving back to my customers and this will be another way of thanking them for their support.  

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