It is the last day of the 2019 season of the English Premier League and the reigning champion, Manchester City, are but minutes away from defending their title against the minnow Brighton and Hove Albion. Now and again, the hall erupts in an uproar. OOOhhhh! Aaaaaghhh! At times, it is a long agonizing moan. Sometimes, a hue and cry in pulsating crescendo. The aura inside the hall is magnetic, adrenaline-pumping and emotional. This is the hallmark of Lion’s Den Sports Bar, Lagos’ hippest sports hangout.
Since it threw its door open a year ago, Lion’s Den Sports Bar won hearts, easily becoming a favourite haunt of sports fans and betting aficionados. The black-hued joint, located in the heart of Tejuosho Market Phase Two Plaza, stands out in its entirety. Emblazoned on its entrance by its iconic lion logo, is the scintillating motto, “How Loud Is Your Roar.”
This sports fans’ favourite haven is a three-in-one pub. One-half of The Den is a game house that is always filled to the brim. It is a bubbly cauldron where diehard bettors wager on bookies’ predictions, betting on a farrago of games, ranging from live EPL matches to horse and dog racing. It is simply a punter’s paradise, where all known games are available. Unlike the average bet shop, the game house in the Lion’s Den operates casino-style––with its own customized currency, which every bettor is obligated to first acquire from the croupier who sits in a corner, forever wearing a smile.
On the occasion of this visit, the game house is characterized by brisk business, as games are won and lost by the minutes in an atmosphere of mixed emotion. One exultant bettor breaks into Zanku dance, having hit a jackpot from car racing.
“Even if I didn’t win, I enjoy playing the game. The joy I get here is beyond expression,” enthuses Jimoh Bakare as he prepares to play another round game. His female companion, Kike, who stands beside him, isn’t so lucky; she lost her own round.
The other part of the den that pulls a crowd is the viewing hall, a vast, breezy chamber with cascading flags of famous football clubs and countries. The flags hung 15 feet from the roof. There is hardly any prestigious club worth its name that you won’t find its flag on the ceiling, including two Nigerian club sides, Enyimba and Kano Pillars.
Most patrons love to sit facing their clubs’ standards; others prefer to sit under the banners with matching jerseys that create a canvas of matching colours from the ceiling to the floor of the hall.
The concept of the flag is exclusive to Lion’ Den Sports Club, says John Orji, the hall supervisor. “It took a really long time to get the flags together,” he states.
The other attraction in the hall is the net-and-ball installation, a replica of the goal post with a ball bursting through the net, located to the left of the entrance, occupying almost an entire side of the wall. The carved ball, graven with the harp symbol of Guinness, is positioned at the top corner of the net while the opposite lower corner is imprinted with a picture of two bottles of Guinness Extra Stout. This contraption adds a touch of glamour to the hall.
“The net-and-ball inside have been the most magical place here,” Orji informs. “It is the place most used as background by those who take pictures. It makes people feel that they are in a football planet.”
The viewing hall has a music stage, which is lavishly autographed with the Arthur Guinness signature, and due to its strategic importance––DJ and live bands are often on stage––the Guinness brand is in your face all the time. Orji avows that two marriage proposals have taken place on the stage since the club officially opened for business on June 1, 2018.
Then there is the bar, which complements the viewing hall. Perhaps you are not a dyed-in-the-wool football fan, but you enjoy a bottle of beer in an atmosphere of camaraderie; then the bar will bring you into the Lion’s Den.
Besides, come rain or sunshine, there is always an active DJ in the viewing hall. So, for the love of music in an atmosphere that has a party feel, many also patronise the hangout. An Igbo live band is always on service on Wednesdays, a day when traders needing some timeout from a hectic sales day troop in to hear their favourite Igbo melodies. Thursday is for karaoke. It is fun to watch people mime their best songs, and share in the crowd’s reaction when mimers goof or nail it.
“Of the two marriage proposals we have had here so far, one happened on our Karaoke night,” recalls the hall supervisor. “The girl was singing and the guy just went on his knee, with a ring case in his hand. The girl became so emotional she cried.”
Aside games, décor and music, quality of service remains the biggest lure to the hangout, claims Orji.
“Game nights here are always crazy. The fans, the crowd overwhelm us some times, but we try to attend to our customers while they enjoy their games. We don’t decide by sentiment the matches we show. We show the most popular games and relevant ones.”
To prevent the atmosphere from degenerating into what is obtained at run-of-the-mill hangouts, bouncers are in place to control the crowd and to discourage brawls. To this end, the door is closed once all seats are occupied and attention is thereafter focused on satisfying patrons inside the Den.
In short, there is no room for standing. In the words of Orji, the hall’s Maitre’D, “If a customer is not seated, then we don’t serve him or her. Only our attendants have the right to stand.”
Patrons who come around to watch evening matches enjoy additional luxury: grills and chops. While the game is on, their orders are in the making, either in the white spacious kitchen inside or at the grilling corner outside.
The last part of the den is the VIP Lounge which does not attract much attention. It is a room for mellow time––smooth music, cool colour, chilled drink and cooed conversations.
Lion’s Den has one unwritten rule. ‘Thou shalt not dress corporate.” It is not a tie-and-suit place. Sport casual, that is the prevailing dress mode.