Review: Strange & Co
It is exciting to see new places open in Christchurch, especially in the struggling inner city. Strange & Co is the bar that, along with the restaurant Orleans and the tiny burger bar Lower 9th Diner, forms the trinity of the Strange's Lane complex. The sharp corner that once housed Java Café is now a hot spot for fine young, and not so young, things.
Despite arriving early on a Friday night, our sextet has to queue outside on Lichfield St, opposite a shipping-container tower that is holding up a quake-damaged facade. Brand-spanking new juxtaposed with dilapidated demolition zone - such is modern Christchurch.
The lane is buzzing with people, ranging from bespectacled hipsters with sardonic facial hair to after-work drinkers in sober suits and tiny women in even tinier skirts.
Finally inside, we grab one of the long, narrow trestle tables with bench seats, which judder whenever someone moves. Despite some creative decorative touches, such as rustic caged bric a brac, Strange & Co is oddly lacking in atmosphere, upstairs and down. It is not the staff's fault; they are efficient and keen to help.
Two of us choose Chard Farm pinot gris ($11 a glass), from a disappointingly light wine list - there are only three whites on offer. A Moonshine Mocha cocktail ($15), which is shaken before me, comes complete with a chunk of Kit-Kat. It tastes like a watered-down Kahlua, but is easy to drink. The three boys opt for beers: Asahi, Tuatara Hefe, and Three Boys Tres Amigos ($11 each).
We order some interesting Cajun/Creole-flavoured snacks, which can be found on the menus elsewhere in the lane. Unfortunately, some items have run out. Onion rings are off the menu, but we share curly fries with chipotle mayo ($8), delicious, succulent smoked lamb ribs ($16), and "chick'n biscuits", which is gravy-fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits that are essentially cheese scones ($16).
The cocktails are strange creations. Tennessee Tea for two ($25) is described as a refreshing cooler with peach, cranberry, mint, sweet iced tea and moonshine to share. It is insipid, like lemon water. The massive jar in which it is served is mostly full of ice.
Named after a children's movie, Milo & Otis is a fig-infused Wild Turkey Rye cocktail with muscovado sugar, mint and Angostura bitters ($16). It is overpowering and kind of yucky. In our own attempt at mixology, we combine our two drinks in the massive jar, which improves both cocktails.
After 10.30pm, we pop into Orleans, which impresses with better wine and beer lists, including Pegasus Bay Aria for only $9 a glass. It is served in a champagne flute, which is odd, but I would drink Aria out of almost anything.
The boys want to try the Rogue Mocha porter ($11) from the United States and Blue Moon white beer ($10) from Australia. Orleans, which serves Southern US-style food, has an interior like Cobb & Co on crack, with mismatched leadlights and crazy ephemera. The restaurant/bar has a weird music mix compared with the live DJ at Strange & Co, but it provides more comfortable seating: high padded banquettes and tables with handy hooks for purses.
Sadly, no dancing has broken out by 11.30pm, so we move on. Come summer, hopefully the teething issues will have evaporated and Strange's Lane should be a great place to hang out, sipping spiked iced tea (possibly mixed with a Milo & Otis).
Where: Strange's Lane, 219 High St, corner of Lichfield and High streets.
Service: Efficient, despite odd uniforms (braces).
Prices: Beers $11, cocktails $16.
Ambience: A local taste of New Orleans and moonshine.