A no messing around guide to the coolest things to eat, drink and do in Vancouver and beyond. Community. Not clickbait.

The Narrow Re-Opens After Forced Closure, with 10 Years Less ‘Skank’

Last month I got an email informing me that The Narrow had been slapped with a ‘Pay or Close’ choice from the BC Liquor Inspector (who have been on a frantic tear of late).

The offence? As Duprey explained to Scout, a staff member told the Liquor Inspector that the kitchen would be closing at 12:15am (15 minutes before it was allowed to.) There were three other people in the bar at the time. “They hit us with a bunch of other little things as well: ‘The bar is too big, the lights are too low’ — the craziest one was that a patron’s drink looked ‘alcoholic.’ I mean, what are drinks supposed to look like?” (See a statement from The Narrow here). Short story: The choice was to either pay a $7,000 fine or close doors for seven days; The Narrow chose the latter, with the aim of using the week to upgrade their space.

Earlier this week, I slipped in to see how it was progressing…

First of all, don’t worry. I’m pleased to report that nothing has really changed. Over the past week, the primary activities inside The Narrow have involved scrubbing, scraping, painting, re-wallpapering (same red wallpaper), and restoring some shine to the tables. What’s new? The heavily graffitied walls of the staircase have been cleaned (and retagged); the bathrooms have been outfitted with some spicy collages; Chef Karl Gregg from Rosie’s BBQ is stepping in to redesign the food program; and thanks to new Bar Manager, Levi DeVos, the drink card has been – dare I use the term – “elevated.” All in all, things are looking nice. As Duprey spells it out: “We’re getting rid of at least ten years of ‘skank’.”

Editor’s Note: The Narrow has been open since Spring 2008, so although a sizeable amount of accumulated ‘skank’ will have been removed when all is said and done, it won’t be the whole lot (in other words, the patina will remain). My overall impression so far was simply of a cleaner, fresher-smelling and less sticky space.

Bottles collecting dust at The Narrow

Sure, The Narrow team has made good use of their downtime, but it’s a drag that it came to this – and they aren’t alone: an increasing number of equally minor sounding infractions with (often crippling) punitive results are on the rise, and the trend raises broader concerns about the timing and focus of regulatory enforcement in British Columbia. As Mike Usinger, from The Georgia Straight, rightly asks: “When large swaths of this city’s streets look like Return of the Living Dead crossed with the most harrowing parts of Requiem for a Dream, why exactly are the Province’s No Fun Police spending their evenings combing bars for infractions that are hurting no one?”

It’s true. No one was in danger at The Narrow. As I understand it, only a few other people were in the room when they broke the rules by closing the kitchen 15 minutes early.  While everyone acknowledges the necessity for rules, the severity and timing of such petty enforcements feel disproportionate and misaligned with the current challenges facing the hospitality sector (which feeds tourism, which in turn feeds the overall health of the economy). There must be a more constructive path.

The Narrow has been serving up no-fuss drinks and cold beer for 16 years, luring a motley crew of patrons into its unmarked, underground speakeasy-ish depths via a single street-level red lightbulb. Not many other spots in Vancouver can claim to draw such a savvy, loyal clientele with so little for so long. “We’ve had a good run,” confides Duprey, “But if they came for us again, we’d have to close for good.”

Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen. Keep it clean, everyone – they’re watching.

The light switch gets flipped on, and doors reopen today (Friday, May 3rd). Not that you need the extra encouragement to turn up, Vancouver – we know you will! See you downstairs…


The Narrow
1898 Main St, Vancouver, BC V5T 3B9

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