Here, co-owner Jez Nash tells The Morning Advertiser about his award-winning site and how old-school telephones and some ’90s hip-hop are vital to the mix at the site.
In 2011, we needed a venue and looked at more than 80 different pubs, bars and shop units until one day, we walked down the Strait in Lincoln and saw a derelict building.
I’d looked at it on behalf of someone else 10 years prior in my wholesale days and couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed to see it again.
As soon as we walked into the disastrous, derelict, destroyed, half-collapsed shell we realised this was the place.
We walked in and said “chandeliers, brick walls (this was pre-craft bars doing this as standard), wooden floor”.
We found the abandoned plans of many who’d tried to save the building, failed and given up but we needed to build our bar here.
All we had to do was spend the next 13 months saving the building and converting it from a collapsing abandoned ex-catalogue shop into the Strait & Narrow – the name came from a throwaway joke email heading that we sent to each other on the first day of viewing and that was it.
On finding the pub, we sold everything we owned and set to work ourselves, bringing in a small team of the only tradesmen who didn’t think we were insane to help us for the final six months.
While we shovelled, demolished, rebuilt, added 50 tonnes of concrete, miles of steel reinforcements, lost fingernails, it became apparent we could make something good – great even – and so we aimed higher, as high as we could.
I’m Jez Nash, co-owner, (pictured below, second from left) along with my best friend and business partner Olly Davis, of The Strait and Narrow in Lincoln.
I first worked with Olly (well for actually, he was the manager) in 1997, at a busy food pub. Since then we’ve worked together four times in the industry at wholesalers, breweries and pub groups.
We spent a lot of time watching how people became successful in the pub/bar trade – we also saw a lot fail – and by 2011, we felt it was time for us to work for ourselves. Quite simply the plan was to make the best bar we possibly could.
The first thing we decided on was to go against the advice everyone gives you (and advice we gave to people) - don’t try and do everything. We wanted to do drinks… all of them.
We wanted to do everything, we thought it could work. We’d been really involved in the creation of a bar in another city the year before and while it had success in its own right, we felt it hadn’t really stuck the landing. We saw the potential and the idea formed.
All the cocktails are designed by the bar team which is run by general manager Daisy Stringer.
Daisy’s knowledge of spirits, cocktails and beer is second to none and is only rivalled by her relentless work-rate. She is a GM who leads from the front like no one I’ve ever seen in this industry.
Everyone on the team has a different area on interest and expertise and brings something different to the table, it’s great to see a predominately female bar team knocking it out the park every night in this male-dominated industry.
Over the past year or so, we’ve made the final three of the Top 50 Cocktails Best Bar Team, won Best Urban/City Bar in the UK at the GBPA and Best Bar in Lincolnshire at the National Pub and Bar Awards.
When we were designing the Strait & Narrow, the plan was something like this:
Person describing us: “There’s this bar and it’s got loads of continental draught that wouldn’t be out of place in Bruges; craft beers, IPAs, Pilsners, fruit beer, lambics, sours, stouts, imperial stouts, double imperial stouts.
“It’s got one of the most highly decorated and skilled cocktail bar teams in the country, wines, kick-ass soundtrack, thousands of spirits on a huge bar, antique chandeliers, bare bricks, oak floors, a beer wall museum, a kind of gentleman’s club room with a proper pub carpet, tons and of Star Wars-related stuff… you’ve got to see it for yourself, just go.”
Our original vision for the pub was a Continental Belgian-style café-bar that served a few cocktails.
We serve drinks only, no food (apart from nice crisps). We opened with little fanfare and the bar exploded. It was busy from the start and the team were on a steep learning curve from day one. We became an instant staple of a night out in Lincoln and threw ourselves into it.
The Strait & Narrow is our version of how a bar should be. True, there is a whole lot of 1990s in it but pubs were all busy in the ’90s don’t forget… inspiration came from all over the world, we spent the summer in Ibiza drawing up the plans before we started and we certainly wanted to get some of the more chilled Balearic vibe in the mix while hip hop and breakbeat was always going to be the soundtrack to the bar.
Not to everyone’s taste sure but a steady beat and a nice baseline keeps heads nodding, feet tapping and drinks going down. It’s been an ever present part of our lives and it became an important strand of the Strait’s DNA – our strap line ‘It’s a Strait and Narrow Thing…’ has come to embody the type of products we sell, people who work here, the attitude of the bar, the standards, the quality, the counterproductive subversive borderline destructive advertising campaigns (we didn’t have a Facebook page for the first two years, we only had an A-board in the street and were on Twitter).
It came from the Big Daddy Kane song It’s a Big Daddy Thing. He played here for our six-month anniversary 1 May 2013. Everyone said we wouldn’t last six months so we shipped him in from New York to blow the roof off and show we were here to stay.
It begins and ends with the taste for us and it’s all about great drinks and fun. That said, every product we sell has to be high-quality, have integrity, ideally dope branding and bring something extra to the party.
Our ‘thing’ in a nutshell is that we want to put the right drink in your hand and give you a really fun, safe time while you’re in the bar. This runs through glass collector to GM.
We’re also fiercely proud of being independent, we like to take risks, be different and try to offer a different original experience for the customer (we used to joke that we look all over the world for ideas and our competitors just look out the window, sadly that is more true than ever these days for a lot of them.)
Our key demographic is everyone – all ages, all inclusive. We’re not sure how we did this but it happens every day and it’s great to see.
There’s also the Strait Exchange. When we came back from the first lockdown in 2020, the landscape was crazy: table service, no standing up, no changing tables, curfew, etc. and as we were planning to reopen, I was struggling to find a hook that would solve the problems and make us different while upholding the ‘Strait & Narrow Thing’ of keeping the bar entertaining, fun, safe and Covid-compliant.
Andrew Wittich, who owns Buzzbee’s Tonics, was a real friend to us during all the lockdowns, he always shared any info he had on what was happening/going to happen and I mentioned my dilemma during one of these conversations.
He said: “You almost need a phone on every table like that yuppie pick-up bar Kaspers in Soho in the ’90s.” I was googling Kaspers before he’s stopped speaking. That was it The Strait Exchange was born. All we needed was an old-school telephone engineer, a full hard-wired internal telephone network that no one uses anymore and a phone on every table.
We had a ton of fun with this, customers love it and it actually diffused a lot of operational problems such as ‘why can’t I change tables and sit with my mates?’ ‘You can call them on this phone’ ‘Really? OK’. Literally every time. It created pub quizzes, blind dates, prank calls, proper socialising (remember how isolating the first lockdown was) all safely done and no rules broken.
We took it out after restrictions were lifted and people begged for it to come back. Three years later, there’s still a phone on every table. We had someone manufacture us a whole new set of phones and the cocktail menu is, of course, based on the Yellow Pages, well ‘Narrow Pages’.
The other thing to come out of those times was our bottled cocktail business, Strait Industries, headed by deputy manager Nathan Esse and Head of Ops Abi Nash. We started this, like everyone did in lockdown, selling and delivering to our loyal customers but we kept it going and expanded into a B2B cocktail range for bars, pubs, restaurants, event venues – basically, anyone who wants to do cocktails but doesn’t have the staff/space/equipment, etc.
This is business that is consistently growing in 2023 and is great fun to do. We love working with venues to help them knock great drinks.
IPA and Pilsner fight it out monthly for the top spot but everything else isn’t far behind. Sours fly out in the warmer months. Everything we stock sells pretty evenly.
We choose our beers – we usually have at least 110 different beers on sale every day – based on who’s making good stuff at the moment with our current favourites being Pastore and Play Brew Co.
We’ve also just teamed up with Swinkels to bring over some amazing Belgian and continental beers. The breweries we use have to also have the right ethos behind them, without piling on there are some breweries we stopped using years ago down to us disagreeing with a lot of their behaviour.
Currently, our draught line-up has a more continental flavour to it, which seemed a fun thing to do in view of this being our 11th year of trading so a return to the original blueprint seemed fun.
We sell way too many spirits and our back bar has some real show-stoppers and rare liquid up there. There’s too much to describe it but we even have people who fly from the USA to drink our Bourbons.
With wine, we just went against the established way of doing a wine list and picked the best wines in each category, priced them all similar or the same and took a hit on the profit we make. The idea behind this is that people often order a house red, etc. our philosophy is that if you want a Malbec, have one but don’t base your choice on price or through the ascending list on the menu. It’s a great list and people can just get stuck into it.
Our cocktail menu is pretty diverse, classics and crowd-pleasers with some more inventive drinks. We’ve got four hidden drinks on the menu that have their own rap song and video to describe them (here’s the one for Belgian Whip: www.thestraitandnarrow.co.uk/hidden-drinks/belgium-whip/).
We also team up with local businesses for a section on our menu where we source ingredients from local manufacturers, restaurants, sweet shops, etc. and use them in our drinks. The rule behind this is that they must be independent businesses and be within walking distance.
More of the same, in the ever-changing landscape that hospitality finds itself in we’re still about one thing. We want you to have the best drink possible… and maybe two more afterwards.
What’s on the drinks menu?
- Exclusive to the Strait
West Sussex Sbagliato: Noix St Jean Liqueur, Campari Casktales, topped with Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine and Campari Crystals - £7.95
- Local independent business collaboration
Blueberry Pancake (Strait x Madame Waffle collab): Koskenkorva Blueberry Juniper Vodka x S&N Lemon Thing with a Madame Waffle Fresh Waffle & De-Hi Blueberry Powder. Available Wednesday-Sunday - £7.95
Bueno Ice Cream Float (Strait x Blyton Ice Cream collab): Blyton Dairy ice cream, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Unbarred Bueno Shake Chocolate and Hazelnut Milk Stout & Coca-Cola - £7.95
- Doctor’s orders
Pornstar Martini: Cartel Vanilla vodka, Passoa passionfruit liqueur, fresh Lime & fresh pineapple juice. (Prosecco by S&N with an S&N Playboy Bunny Tattoo) - £8.50 (non-alc £2.95)
- Day & night services
White Russian: Cariel Vanilla vodka, Borghetti coffee liqueur, cream and a toasted naked marshmallow - £7.50 (non-alc £2.95)
- Personal drinks trainer
Glitter Berry: Chambord black raspberry liqueur, Le Jay Cassis & Prosecco top, Infinity Cassis & 2 glittery raspberries - £6.95
Mojito: Plantation 3* white rum, fresh lime, Fresh From The Fields mint, sugar & topped with Buzzbee's Tonic - £6.95 (flavoured £7.50, non-alco £2.95)
Example beers (as of 17 August 2023)
Budweiser Budvar/Czechvar Original Pilsner (5% ABV) – pint £5.75, half £3
Berliner Pilsner (5% ABV) – pint £5.75, half £3
Cornet Oaked Belgian Strong Golden Ale (8.5% ABV) – pint £8.50, half £4.40
Unbarred Bueno Shake Stout (6.4% ABV) – pint £5.95, half £3
Lervig House Party IPA (4% ABV) – pint £4.75, half £2.50
Verdant Sundialer Pale Ale (5% ABV) – pint £5.95, half £3
Cloudwater Fuzzy Pale Ale (4.2% ABV) – pint £4.95, half £2.85
- Fruit beers
Cherry Chouffe Fruit Beer (8% ABV) – 330ml bottle £6.25
Timmermans Pêche Lambicus Lambic (4% ABV) – pint £5.95, half £3.15
Bacchus Frambozenbier Sour (5% ABV) – 375ml bottle £5.95