When we took on the lease to a vacant unit in Waterbourne Walk, what we got was a shell of a building, a blank canvas for us to build our bar. We had rustled up some funds and we had brainstormed some ideas, but how to turn an old Blockbuster Video unit into an urban music bar was a completely new challenge for all of us!
Our team were already in place long before we signed the lease. We had all worked at another local pub, and when our bosses lease came to an end in November 2019, we had made the decision that we would all stick together and create The Crooked Crow Bar.
Our former bosses (and good friends) did everything they could to support us. Having been Landlords for 37years, they shared, not only their invaluable experience, but also donated various items we had come to love, as well as letting us have first dibs on items of furniture from the old pub and allowed us to rummage through the pubs storage barn to take anything that might be useful.
So by the time we had finally signed the paperwork and got the keys to start works, we had a collection of furniture items and random objects and as we had set ourselves the ridiculous deadline of opening in 6 weeks (and opening for a ticketed New Years Eve party 2 weeks before that!) we had to seriously crack on!
We had pre-agreed the bars layout and so our contractors began completing all of the big works that would be way beyond our skill set. We wanted an old fashioned wooden floor, but unfortunately the building came with a concrete resin flooring. A new wooden floor would be stupidly expensive and a laminate floor, though cheaper, wouldn't have had the same character. Then we had the idea to build a wooden floor from old scaffold planks. They looked great, were in budget and were really durable. They worked so well we soon decided to also use them to make the bar and the stage!
Finishing the floor nearly cost us our sanity. The contractors sourced, cut and laid the planks. But to make the floor into a functional dancefloor we had to painstakingly sand back each board and fill the gaps with newspaper and a mix of sawdust and pva glue (a sticky porridge) and then varnish it. It took a team of 6 of us to work 48 hours straight to just break the back of it!
We made the contentious decision to make our stage space absolutely massive!! In actual fact the stage area is approximately 1/3 of the floor space. Originally we had been looking at options to make an extendable stage, however, being that the bars busiest times were likely to be when the stage was in use, we decided to be bold and to embrace the fact we were a music bar and have a stage that bands would love to perform on.
While the builders and electricians were working on the main jobs, we were busy finalising plans on how to decorate and furnish the place. We were aware that when styling a bar there needs to be a balance, if you stick to a certain style too rigidly then it could end up looking like a soulless theme-pub, if you mix up the styles it could look like a jumble sale! But we had to start somewhere, so we decided that we wanted the style to be a blend of industrial and rustic. The electricians left all of the lighting chrome trays exposed and we managed to cheaply source brass styled light fittings which really looked fantastic once hung up in the bar.
The other decision that was made quite early on, was that the existing beams/pillars that divided the room, would be left in situ and not hidden. The room is quite large and would quickly become characterless if it wasn't broken up at all. We decided that the pillars and beams would remain plain white, so that when we decorated the walls, the room wouldn't look too busy. Each of the walls would have 3 wooden boards attached to them, this would mix up the textures, give a layer of soundproofing and would enable us to have softer backlighting for when bands are performing.
Our colour scheme was (rather unadventurously) grey, white and black! We decided we would brighten up the walls by adding coloured fabrics, patterned with various crow designs (these would also help with mixing up the textures and add another bit of soundproofing) and plants in the window areas.
We had managed to acquire a large rustic table when we pillaged our old pub, and 2 old church pews. As fantastic as these items were, they were not going to be enough to furnish the whole bar.
We also managed to find a 2nd hand, large wooden table on a local selling site so we snapped that up! The rest of the furniture was not going to be so easy. It would need to be fairly light, small &/or stackable, so it could be moved out of the way when we have gigs. We also wanted it to be rustic and durable and (with budget running tight), cheap!
We had been given a load of old bar stools which were still in solid condition. They were 1970's styled, lacquered wood, topped with fake leather seat covers that had become ripped and frayed. So the team started sanding back each of the stools, giving them a quick varnish and a friend of ours was able to re-fabric them with a black, soft covering. Any of the stools that couldn't be sanded, were sprayed silver. We ended up with far more stools than would ever be needed in a bar, but they looked so good, we kept them all!
We made tables from 2 dartboards and 2 old tea-chests that we got from the old pubs barn and a load of wooden cable drums that had been donated to us.
Somehow, the bar started to take shape. It had it's own style, it's own atmosphere. We had sanded back the pool table, had a kick-ass sound system and beer pumps installed. The iconic bust of Joseph Simpson sat proud on a shelf, overlooking the stage to remind us of our journey so far. We added a few more bits (some shelves for empty beer glasses, the inside of an old piano that was kindly donated to us, framed pictures and mirrors etc) and somehow, by the skin of our teeth, The Crooked Crow Bar was ready to open.
We know this project will be never-ending, a constantly evolving space, but we are so proud of the bar that we have built, a labour of love, and we cannot wait to see what she becomes.