To some it's just the edge of town bar with the latest licence in Maidstone, UK, to others it's a kind of paradise where cricketing legends go to heaven. But whether you're a cricketer at the end of your career or a drinker at the end of a night out, Lashings Bar and Cricket Club have always been a place to start again – maybe even a portal to another dimension.
To step off Upper Stone Street into its confines always felt like stepping out of Maidstone and into a holiday bar – and for founder David Folb the business offered a literal route out to paradise. Sipping a coffee in Jamaica at Lashings Hotel and Villas this week, he's no longer involved with the Maidstone bar or the wandering all star cricket team it spawned, but he explained how the legend began back in 1976.
"I'm going back a long way," he said. "Basically it started more than 40 years ago, in the January after I turned 18. Sports bars were just starting as an idea and watching sports in bars boomed after Sky took over, but we had another take on it. We had football teams, cricket teams, rugby teams, netball teams; we wanted to appeal to all sporting people.
"I had a love of local sport and I liked the idea that football clubs met there, rugby clubs met there. Drinking is drinking but I always saw the sporting activity as beneficial to people – you build friendships and camaraderie over the years."
Soon though cricket took over as David's primary passion, and the Lashings team began to play in village cricket leagues. "I loved football and I loved rugby but cricket was the thing I got most passionate about for a long time," added David. "I loved the idea of it being non racist and non classist, and I used to really admire clubs all over Kent, like the way Lordswood was built around the working men's club. I don't think I envisaged it would become a global name with the cricket, but I just had a love of sport."
Meanwhile David's passion for the game was taking him to matches across the world, where he met international cricketers clamouring to play in the UK – and in 1996 one such player was former West Indies captain Richie Richardson. But Richardson wasn't just clamouring to play in England. The world famous batsman had recently retired and was quoted as saying he was "burnt out", suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. And so the idea transpired of Richie signing for David's pub side.
"When we signed Richie Richardson it was all over national newspapers and Sky News," he recalled. "When he made his debut and there were about 200 players and the world's media there - it changed things for good. I remember talking to my bank manager and he'd said Lashings has reached its potential – then we signed Richie Richardson and it doubled our turnover. We never looked back."
Fellow internationals soon followed, and suddenly regulars at Lashings were rubbing shoulders with West Indian stars like Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan.
Writing on the Lashings cricket website, former Kent Messenger reporter Fred Atkins recalls: "Richie’s signing took Lashings into another dimension. I started working as a reporter for the Maidstone News in 2000 and David Folb was a saviour because being a sports reporter in Maidstone was like being an ice hockey correspondent in Cairo.
"You’d be an hour from deadline, wondering if you could make a back page lead out of a petanque tournament in Snodland when David would ring and say: 'Fred, I’ve signed Wasim Akram.'"
Other international names included Brian Lara, Chris Cairns, and Curtley Ambrose, while English legends Devon Malcolm and Phil Tufnell also came to the party. David added: "I think Fred Atkins said we were living the dream and it seemed that way at the time. We were living the dream, but it was hard work, and then it became extremely hard work. The cricket overtook quite a lot of things."
While the Lashings Cricket Team's star was rising, the bar itself had become a fixture in the firmament of Maidstone's night life scene – famous as the place to go after other clubs chucked out and ruled over by the inimitable Irishman John Tobin.
And while cricket legends have come and gone, to Maidstone folk, John is the biggest name associated with Lashings. "John used to drink in Lashings," said David. "One day he said 'I'll come and help out for a couple of weeks. That was 40 years ago. John does things his way and he's never really worked for me, he works for himself. The way Lashings has been over the past 25 years was really down to John and nothing to do with me."
The beginning of the end, as far as David's involvement was concerned, came when Lashings Cricket Club's Operations Manager James Honey-Green was convicted of fraud. And when the Covid pandemic hit, he realised he'd have to fold both the bar and the cricket team, which are both now under new ownership.
"I realised at that time of the fraud that me being involved in Jamaica meant I wasn't able to keep my eye on the ball," he said. "I wanted to continue but Covid just flattened the business. It also meant I couldn't travel. We tried but it was pretty obvious when we reopened that things had changed completely."
With his wife and son living with him in Jamaica, David is now solely focused on his hotel and villas in Treasure Beach but he'll always feel a bond with the old bar in Maidstone.
"I only look back with extremely fond memories," he added. "I made a lot of friends, and we raised good money for charities along the way. Lashings was always a business, but I never thought of it as just a business - it's an institution."