A Very Chic Insider’s Guide to Lagos

02-sal-gbajaAs a fashion-forward businesswoman, Sal Gbaja is constantly on the move. Traveling between the country’s political and administrative capital, Abuja (where her café and bookstore, Salamander, is one of the city’s cultural guideposts), and the bustling cultural and financial center of Lagos—all while wearing Vetements or Gucci—the chic local is privy to practically every cultural pocket of her city. There isn’t a café, marketplace, or gallery that goes overlooked by Gbaja, who keeps her finger on the pulse among Nigeria’s political and cultural worlds, which is why she makes for the perfect guide to those who are descending upon Lagos for the city’s annual Fashion Week, kicking off today, as well as the Art x Lagos art fair, which begins next week.

Whether you’re hoping to tap into the city’s thriving art scene, find the perfect bowl of jollof rice, or source out the best in ankara fabrics, Gbaja knows exactly where to send you—and best of all, she’s willing to share the inside scoop.

Here, Lagos’s chicest denizen offers her definitive guide to the city.

Your First Stop in Lagos
Delis Grocery Store in Victoria Island

The Best Place to People-Watch
The Wheatbaker hotel in Ikoyi

Must-See Museum
The National Gallery of Art inside the National Theatre in Iganmu

Best Marketplaces
“Tejuosho market in Surulere for fabric and sundries, or Oke Arin in central Lagos, if only to see the female ‘barrow boys’ perform the traditionally male profession of maneuvering and wheeling your shopping out of the market in barrows,” says Gbaja.

Favorite New Restaurants
“I love Nok by Alara for African fusion cuisine and awesome cocktails, brunch at Samantha’s Bistro & Grill is always good, and the George hotel restaurant in Ikoyi is fabulous for people-watching,” says Gbaja.

The Best Shopping
“Temple Muse has the best edit of Nigerian luxury designer fashion, and Alara for premium Western designer clothes. Both of these spaces also play host to spectacular art exhibitions. Temple Muse has a Champagne and cupcake bar, and Alara sells uniquely crafted African furniture, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The Christmas shop at Temple Muse is the traditional kickoff to the season. One can get special-occasion gifts at both, and they both carry extensive selections of Western shoe and bag designers. It’s a little off the beaten track, but a trip to Ituen Basi in Surulere is well worth it for well-made ankara (waxed African print) clothes,” says Gbaja.
The Best Art Galleries
“My favorite gallery is Art Clip Africa at the Radisson Blu Hotel. The current artist in residence is the wonderful Tayo Quaye. The CCA (Centre for Contemporary Art) in Yaba is always good, and Alara recently hosted a photographic exhibit of Femi Akintobi’s pictures of the burning of Fela’s Kalakuta Republic in conjunction with Felabration, when Fela’s music and legacy is celebrated worldwide. Art Twenty-One gallery inside Eko Hotels & Suites is another favorite. I’m also very excited to see works by master artist El Anatsui, and one of Nigeria’s best-selling artists, Rom Isichei,” says Gbaja.

The Best Jollof Rice in Town
“There is a local saying that a party without jollof rice is just a meeting, so I’d say you can get a pretty good bowl of jollof anywhere. If you want to sample the best Lagos fare, I’d recommend the Ghana High Buka in central Lagos, which has been serving this for as long as anyone can remember. This is, of course, not to be confused with Ghanaian jollof rice; Nigerian jollof is king,” says Gbaja.

Lagos’s Best-Kept Secrets
“Miliki is a private members lounge for the cool kids—people connected with the arts, sciences, design, and social justice. Miliki supports contemporary creativity and culture in Nigeria. The Orchid Bistro has the most delicious food set within an orchid garden oasis. Manuela Residence has the best authentic Italian thin-crust pizza and fantastic wine, while The Winehouse Lounge is a hidden tavern on a quiet property surrounded by palm trees,” says Gbaja.

For Beauty Needs
“For nails done, hair done, everything big? The Nail Room in Ikoyi Mall and Face-Facts Cosmetics Studio in Victoria Island. For awesome special-occasion makeup, I go to Jide of St.Ola,” says Gbaja.

For a Little Drinking and Dancing
“RSVP Poolside is best for drinks and dancing. Freedom Park is pretty great, too. It’s the old colonial-era prison repurposed and greened over to host concerts, plays, exhibitions, and events. It has live music almost every day of the week and a range of various cuisines. The Sky Lounge on the penthouse floor of Eko Hotels & Suites is great for drinks and great views of Lagos,” says Gbaja.

The Best Day Trips
“For a concentration of Nigerian ancient history and relics of the transatlantic slave trade, take a day trip to Badagry, by road, or boat. Osogbo is home to Unesco World Heritage–listed Sacred Grove and the home of Austrian-born Yoruba priestess Susanne Wenger. Lunch in the garden of Nike Guest House, owned by artist Nike Davies Okundaye, among roving peacocks and giant tortoises. Or Jet Ski or speedboat out to surfers’ beach Tarkwa Bay, to see gorgeous views of Lagos, the soon-to-be-completed Eko Atlantic City, and of course, nature at its best,” says Gbaja.

Headed to Abuja? Check Out Salamander
“The Abuja Literary Society holds meetings at Salamander once a month, and sometimes we have readings and Q&A’s with authors. We’ve recently hosted Elnathan John reading from his Caine Prize shortlisted book, Born on a Tuesday, and Chigozie Obioma, who read from his Man Booker Prize shortlisted book, The Fishermen. I’m looking forward to Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex, and Nigerian Taste Buds by Yemisi Aribisala, which arrives at the end of October. In addition to that, you can’t miss our Margarita Thursdays, and Sunday art-house film club,” says Gbaja.


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