Ocean basins are connected by straits and passages, geometrically limiting important heat and salt exchanges which in turn influence the global thermohaline circulation and climate. Such exchange can be modeled in an idealized way by taking into consideration the density-driven two-layer flow along a strait under the influence of rotation. We use a laboratory model of a lock exchange between two reservoirs of different density through a flat-bottom channel with a horizontal narrows, set up on two different platforms: a 1 m diameter turntable, where density interface position was measured by dye attenuation, and the 14 m diameter turntable at Coriolis/LEGI (Grenoble, France), where correlation imaging velocimetry, a particle imaging technique, allowed us to obtain for the first time detailed measurements of the velocity fields in these flows. The influence of rotation is studied by varying a parameter, BuBu, a type of Burger number given by the ratio of the Rossby radius to the channel width at the narrows. In addition, a two-layer version of the Miami Isopycnic Coordinate Model (MICOM) is used, to study the cases with low Burger number. Results from experiments by Dalziel [1988. Two-layer hydraulics: maximal exchange flows. Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, see also 〈〈http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/lab/people/sd103/papers/1988/Thesis_Dalziel.pdf〉〉] are also included for comparison. Time-mean exchange fluxes for any BuBu are in close agreement with the inviscid zero-potential vorticity theory of Dalziel [1990. Rotating two-layer sill flows. In: Pratt, L.J. (Ed.), The Physical Oceanography of Sea Straits. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, pp. 343–371] and Whitehead et al. [1974. Rotating hydraulics of strait and sill flows. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics 6, 101–125], who found that fluxes for Bu〉1Bu〉1 mainly vary with channel width, similar to non-rotating flow, but for Bu〈1Bu〈1 are only limited by the Rossby radius. We also show theoretically that non-zero-potential vorticity results in only a small increase in the predicted exchange flux around Bu∼1Bu∼1. The flow characteristics are found to be very different for small and large Burger numbers: for Bu〉1Bu〉1 a steady, two-layer flow was observed that persisted across the channel at the narrows with only some across-channel variation. The distribution of the Froude number is found to give some evidence for hydraulic control in a manner similar to that of non-rotating flows under the influence of bottom drag. Flow for Bu〈0.5Bu〈0.5 does not appear to reach a steady state but instead is characterized by an unsteady, meandering current and several eddies in the strait. Similar instabilities also occur in wide oceanic straits, where several mechanisms, such as barotropic and baroclinic instability, have been proposed and could also be one cause of time variability in our experiments. Both the laboratory experiments and the MICOM results suggest that in the presence of bottom drag or side wall friction some features of the flow, such as the location of the channel crossing, become sensitive to the initial conditions. These effects differ in flows with Bu〉1Bu〉1 and Bu〈1Bu〈1.