When I moved to New York City in 2019, I craved Nigerian food, music, and people. I waited patiently until Valentine’s Day this year when Lagos Restaurant and Lounge opened in Manhattan and New Yorkers showed up to celebrate the first upscale Nigerian restaurant in the city. While New York is home to about 35,000 Nigerians the culture is not new to the city but there are very few spaces dedicated to entertaining with good quality Nigerian food and music in New York.
As I walked into the restaurant, I noticed the dark space lit up with a bar and opposite the DJ booth I was drawn to a neon glowing sign, “Meet Me In Lagos.” Instantly I felt at home. I imagined how other Nigerians felt when they saw those words plastered across the faux grass walls. For me, Lagos represents the melting pot of different Nigerian cultures overstimulated with enjoyment. But for other New Yorkers, it’s the opportunity to get a taste of Lagos or perhaps be a part of something new and authentically Nigerian.
The idea for the lounge started in 2019 when three Nigerian friends under the name Cecil Dolton Restaurant Group, decided that it was time to introduce a high-end space for Nigerians to socialize. By 2021, after the heat of the pandemic had passed, their dream became reality in a prime location on East 49th street in Manhattan and New Yorkers (mostly Africans) keep Lagos Lounge booked and busy. By April the restaurant hosted celebrities like musician Davido and Porsha Williams from the Real Housewives of Atlanta. The lounge has become the go-to spot for Nigerian musicians like Ayo Jay who are looking to share new music.
Nigerians love to have a good time, it’s a big part of our culture. When I arrived on a warm Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t surprised to find the space overflowing with people who share a common love for Afrobeats music. One of the owners, Oguguo Obioha, stays on-site to make sure things are running smoothly. I watched him walk around in his crisp black Nigerian native suit as he calmly addressed many issues throughout the day. He talked about how challenging it can be working with “big egos in the kitchen” and dealing with a fair share of troublesome Nigerian customers. Overwhelmed by the amount of attention the new restaurant gets weekly he said, “If I knew how successful this was going to be I would have gotten a bigger space”. Obioha added, “we’re looking for a bigger space already”.
The restaurant’s Lagos-inspired menu is pricey compared to most African spots in the city. While they have loyal customers coming back for more, it’s not an easy process to make these authentic meals successful. The head chef, Ayodeji Adeosun, who has been in the restaurant industry for 17 years talked about the process of gathering ingredients from the Bronx, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Nigeria. He said, “It took us almost four months to get the right suya spice. It was a difficult process”.
I found the cocktail list particularly amusing because the names of the drinks are popular places and slang used by Nigerians in Lagos. For example, the gin and tonic mix called, “Wahala dey” or the mango margarita mix named “Lekki Margarita”. I had to try the $23 “Slay mama”, a dashing Hennessy drink with coconut cream and chartreuse served in a pineapple. And of course, the star of the menu was the $19 Jollof rice and $17 suya combination. The portions were large enough to share between two people. I decided that the suya was worth the four-month discovery period because it was the best suya I’ve had in America. I was convinced that I was in Lagos.