Sunday, October 19, 2008
Ziggy Socky, Ziggy Socky, Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!
There once was this bar on Wilshire in Santa Monica called “The Fox Inn Rathskeller,” where visitors would stand in line for up to an hour, just to get into the crowded, smoke-filled room. Nothing fancy about the place – just picnic tables and benches, and a piano up front. No TVs along the walls. They only served beer.
Everybody came to drink beer and sing along with the guy playing the piano.
It was the closest thing we had to a German pub, with the beer flowing freely and everybody inside singing choruses of raunchy beer-drinking rugby songs. Beer wasn’t poured by the glass, but by the pitcher.
Of course, that was a different time, and society was a different place. There was no such thing as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. I can’t imagine a place like that could operate today, which is why it’s no wonder officials closed The Fox Inn in 1989, depriving future generations of the unique exploits of Bill “The Fox” Foster.
I think people have a hard time believing there really was such a guy, but The Fox was a legend. He could drink beer faster than anyone ever. Even the characters portrayed in the film “Beerfest” couldn’t hold a cold one to the Fox.
Standing behind an upright piano holding two mugs of beer, and with a cry of “Ziggy socky ziggy socky, hoy! Hoy! Hoy!” he would dump both mugs down his throat in less than two seconds. Not surprisingly, he held the title of “World’s Fastest Beer Drinker” for 25 consecutive years. Really.
Anytime he was met with an “automatic challenge,” he’d drink two beers faster than the challenger could drink even one. He’d turn a beer glass upside-down and fill the crown with beer and offer it to his opponent, then drink his full glass before the other person could drink the one-ounce shot of beer. He rarely lost a challenge, if ever.
The best part, of course, was watching him stand on his head and chug a glass. He’d still win. He’d probably drink close to 40 glasses of beer a night, and then come back the next night and do it again.
Between chugs, The Fox led the room in song. He’d play piano, calling out sing-along-style parodies of popular standards with raunchy lyrics and crass choruses. It was pub entertainment at its best – a room full of drunks belting out what he called "songs your mother wouldn't sing." I taught my sons The Fox version of “Take it out at the Ballgame,” which we routinely still sing every time during the seventh-inning stretch. I don’t think they know the real words to the song anymore. The Fox’s “censored” version is much more fun.
I found a bunch of short clips that were recorded at the Fox Inn. Go to this link to listen to them one at a time.
The Fox Inn was filled with picnic tables, and more wooden benches were lined end-to-end along the walls. It was standing room only on Saturday nights, and people stood on the benches just to get a better view. The line outside was 25 feet long. I first heard about the place in college, and my friend Nick Salata first took us there. Nick seemed to know everywhere to go in Los Angeles, and this was one of his favorites. It was one of mine, too.
Foster performed nightly at The Fox Inn from 1961 until it was closed in 1989. It was a mandatory stop after going to a Lakers or Kings game at the Forum, or on a visit to our friend Trip Oates’ place in Santa Monica.
My favorite memory is running into the Fox at a UCLA-Stanford football game at the Rose Bowl on a November afternoon in 1982 (UCLA won, 38-35 in a shootout between quarterbacks Tom Ramsey and John Elway). Back then they still sold beer at college games, so when Greg Setlich, Robert Villanueva, Grant Warhurst and I saw the Fox roaming the concourse area, we offered up an automatic challenge. He refused because he had to work that night. Naturally, the four of us figured we needed to go see him at work. We had a generous head start, having several large beers at the game. Add a few more at some other watering holes around town, and we eventually found our way to Santa Monica. The Fox recognized us from our meeting at the Rose Bowl earlier in the day, and called us out for an automatic challenge. We were already pretty saturated, but none of us stood a chance anyway By that time we truly looked foolish.
The songs made it especially fun. Anyone could chime in with their own limerick or rhyme, but they better be good, or else they’d be met with a chorus of “F--- You,” sung to the tune of the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” Christmas song. And if the Fox spotted you heading toward the restroom while he was at the piano, he’d likely stop in mid song and start repeating, “We know where you’re going, we know where you’re going…”
And if you dared spill your beer, he’d call you out with another “F—You” song in your honor.
After the sale of the Fox Inn, Foster continued to perform in and around Los Angeles and at college campuses and special events. He later gained notoriety as a cast member of “The Man Show” on cable TV, where he chugged beers and sang songs with the audience. We saw him perform at Irrelevant Week at the Balboa Bay Club and at a bar in Pasadena, but it never was the same as the Santa Monica pub. It was always fun, but the last time we saw him in Pasadena, one of the guys in our group got us kicked out of the restaurant early that night, so we never got to enjoy him again at his best.
Here is a video tribute to the Fox that aired on "The Man Show." Definitely worth watching, but it doesn't come close to capturing the atmosphere that filled "The Fox Inn Rathskeller" on Wilshire.
On May 10, 2000, Foster died at his home in Santa Monica after a long battle with prostate cancer. Gone, but long remembered.