York’s former Army and Navy Stores has been transformed into a new bar and restaurant with a quirky war theme. MAXINE GORDON marches there in quick time for an inspection.

ABOUT turn, and take a detour to Fossgate to find the latest offensive in York’s mission to build an enviable empire of food and drink outposts.

Sutlers is the latest recruit gunning for our attention with its comprehensive offering of café by day, and pub, restaurant and cocktail bar by night.

Sitting in a commanding position at the top of Fossgate, Sutlers is spread over two sprawling floors in the former Army and Navy Stores building.

It’s all change for sure. Instead of selling camouflage gear and camping kits, designer beers, continental coffees and good old fashioned British grub are the order of the day.

Owner Richard Beal admits to having had sleepless nights during the two-year renovation of the Grade II listed site. “It was stuck in planning for ages and then every time we pulled off a bit of wood there was a horror story behind it that needed sorting out.”

Renovation complete, Sutlers is already proving a welcome addition to York’s buoyant social scene. There was a capacity crowd on the first Saturday night, with people queueing to get into what is turning out to be the venue’s most popular room – a tiny snug decked out like an Edwardian library with four cosy armchairs set round a drinks table.

Don’t worry, though. If the snug is full, there is plenty of choice elsewhere to enjoy a drink (75 beers, 80 wines and 20 different gins for starters) and snacks (Scotch eggs and Spam fritters anyone?).

Dubbed “The Churchill”, the upstairs dining room is proving a talking point with its bowler hat light fittings and monkey print wallpaper.

Want something more comfy? Then there are some inviting sofas upholstered in an aubergine crushed velvet to linger on. In the next room, two leather banquettes face each other across a long wooden table made from part of the old shopfront and manager’s desks.

Joiners Jeff Joyce, Roy Burchill and Graham Johnson worked their magic downstairs, turning old floorboards and joists into tables – after thoroughly treating for woodworm which had been rife across the site.

The former Army and Navy shop counter remains too, and has been turned into the main bar. Look closely and you will see the brass measuring plate that framed the inside of the counter. Upstairs in the cocktail area, you’ll find the manager’s safe.

There are glass cabinets full of knick-knacks such as old cups, tankards and white china dogs. On the wall are a selection of vintage prints, fish-eye mirrors and painted tin posters.

The theme is a nostalgia for 1920s and 1930s, says Richard. While the music downstairs is contemporary, jazz is the genre of choice for the rest of the space.

Richard said: “I’ve pitched it in the inter-war period. It was a time when manners were more prevalent and people were more polite. Downstairs, the ambience is more of a bar and eaterie, but upstairs there is the cocktail bar and we have taken influence from the building and history and picked out the 1920s when cocktails were in their heyday.”

There is a nod to the Army and Navy past in the name too – a sutler is an old US term for someone who sold provisions to the army.

Sutlers’ menu evokes wartime. It is designed like a ration book and has a section called Officers Mess featuring dishes such as sirloin steak, rump of lamb and Yorkshire beef, with prices from £13 to £23 for main courses.

The sum of £3 will secure you something tasty from the Ration Packs selection, including Welsh rarebit, Spam fritters, pork pie and corned beef. Served as small plates, the recommendation is four plates per person.

British favourites such as fish and chips (£11) corned beef hash (£12) and steak and ale pie (£13) are also available, as is a selection of desserts and full afternoon tea.

Sutlers opens from 8am for coffee but hopes to be offering breakfast soon. Look out too for beer, wine and cocktail events in the near future, says Richard. And that’s not all. He has already hooked up with other Fossgate traders who would like to see the street pedestrianised.

“It’s a very good location and very busy. It would be nice if it was pedestrianised and to have that kind of European cafe culture in the street. All the shops could benefit from that.”