Bar with an array of plaques representing multiple cultures at Eliot Nas...
By Demola Ojo
Eliot Ness was a famous American Prohibition agent in the 1930’s famous for his efforts to enforce Prohibition in Chicago and the leader of a legendary team of law enforcement agents nicknamed The Untouchables. He was renowned for his constant battles with crime kingpin Al Capone, since a substantial amount of Capone’s ill-gotten wealth was derived from the then illegal sale of alcohol.
Forward to 21st century Nigeria and it is a telling contrast – a contradiction in fact – that the same name (okay, similar sounding to be exact) has been given to a bar, restaurant and boutique hotel in Apapa, Lagos.
“It was a joke at first,” says Eliot Nassim Saidi, the owner of the outfit opened in 2004 and as you have guessed, the source of the hospitality outlet’s name. “I’ll soon get neon lighting at the bar that says ‘Prohibition.’ That would be such an interesting contrast,” he continues.
Opened on Marine Road in 2004, Saidi is adamant that Elliot Nass, or Nass as regulars refer to it, is a pioneer in its own right. “It was the first of its kind here. Of course there were other hotels like Excelsior Hotel and other s but in the GRA area of Apapa, it’s the first that has catered to corporate clients. It was and it’s still a small setup but we maintain standards and clientele is still predominantly corporate.”
Observation reveals that said clientele is largely foreign. “They are mostly people in the shipping industry that come into Nigeria for jobs that may take them four days, five days… a week, two weeks…Ship owner agents who come to make sure the ships have offloaded and the like…so many nationalities.
“Over the years we’ve had quite a variety; a number of South Africans, British, Russian, French, Dutch, Greeks, Italian, Americans, Chinese; also people from Cotonou and Ivory Coast,” he explains.
This potpourri of nationalities has translated to the menu: “Our restaurant here is a fusion restaurant menu, so it caters to different nationalities; we have a couple of Chinese dishes, some French and Italian too, Nigerian of course and a little Lebanese. Same with our bar.”
His heritage is probably another reason why he is ready to embrace diverse cultures. He is half Lebanese half Nigerian, his mother from Borno State. “My family on my father’s side have been in Nigeria since the 1900s so we have a history of over a hundred years in this country. We’ve had companies in Nigeria and Manchester since the 1930s. Around the time we also had a company called West African Pictures which was one of the first companies to bring films into Nigeria.”
Born in Jos in the 50’s, he was sent to boarding school in Lebanon when he was four after his father passed on and was there until the 70’s when he returned to Nigeria. He still travels around the world when he can afford to get away from Nas. Naturally, he comes with something different to add to the collection of art work, décor and memorabilia.
“I brought some lights with me from the UK,” he explains, since there are a few workmen around. “It would make it more of an English bar which is what many Nigerians can associate with since England is
the leading travel destination for Nigerians.”
Most of the decorations and plaques on the bar walls are actual names of many London pubs; there ‘s a lot of African influence as well, carvings, paintings and self-designed African-themed mirrors. “ I incorporated African-themed art here especially because I appreciate it.
“I used to trade in African-themed items. I exported furniture, clothing, books and African culture in general to the USA,” he reveals.
In every room there is a painting with an African scene. Raffia and pottery too. Yoruba and Nupe carvings dominate. “It is simply to give guests a feeling that they are in Nigeria. Because once you close your windows, most hotel rooms in the world are similar. But if you walk in the public areas here, you know you’re in an African country.”
Despite other businesses he is always at Nas and it is what he’s associated with. “To tell the truth, the restaurant was not my first business setup; I was generally in trading, agents for a few factories on the African West Coast; mainly dealing in agricultural tools, then I did this on the side and made it bigger and bigger. It’s not that big but it’s the efficiency behind it that we’re after,” he says.
It’s the reason why Saidi stays in-house. “This business needs very close supervision if you want to keep it. The problem with us generally in Nigeria is that we have very nice things but we don’t maintain them well. One of my primary goals is to make sure everything is functional all the time and to achieve that you have to be around; because it’s the small things that matter.”