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Meet the Woman Shining a Spotlight on Nigerian Cocktail Culture

Lara Rawa is a Tales Attaché and the founder of Lagos Cocktail Week.
Lara Rawa is a Tales Attaché and the founder of Lagos Cocktail Week.

Lara Rawa is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. She's a bartender, first and foremost, but also finds time to run her own cocktail consulting company, Eventi Cocktails, as well as founding a cocktail festival in her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. Last week, she hosted the fourth annual Lagos Cocktail Week, which aims to promote the best of Nigeria's up-and-coming cocktail culture. The six day event kicked off on October 16th and featured bar business seminars, garnish courses, a "bar battle" competition, and a walking bar hop that showcased local ingredients and recipes. Below, Lara shares how Lagos Cocktail Week came about, the current state of Nigerian bar culture, and what's next on her busy agenda.

What was your inspiration for Lagos Cocktail Week?

I have been in the business of making cocktails since 2008 as an entrepreneur running a mobile service company. I knew there was a way to promote the emerging cocktail culture in Nigeria but did not know how to go about it. I attended London Cocktail Week in 2014 as a volunteer and saw the fusion of educating, informing, and entertaining that took place. This inspired me to create the Lagos Cocktail Week in 2014.

Tell us about Lagos' current cocktail scene.

The Lagos cocktail scene is evolving. Nigerians are more interested in bottle service. So, in most bars clients order by the bottle. It's changing right now but our cocktail scene cannot be compared to London or New York at the moment. Some bars are into craft cocktails — but not all. This is why we try to encourage the use of local ingredients during the week of the event. Bartenders are into all kinds of spirits from gin to tequila to brandy, and we're also into local fruits like tiger nut, etc.

Bartender Kelvin Oduntan shakes up drinks at the Ketel One bar during the Grand Finale. Bartender Kelvin Oduntan shakes up drinks at the Ketel One bar during the Grand Finale.
What were some of the top events during Lagos Cocktail Week?

We hosted practical sessions that teach people how to mix cocktails, especially classic cocktails, and twists on the classics. Flair bartending is not popular here at the moment, but we hope this will change very soon.

During our seminar sessions, we invited professional in different fields from operations, finance, law, health, safety, etc. The session is mostly an interactive one. Attendees were able to use their businesses as a case study. A majority of the attendees were mostly entrepreneurs who run their own cocktail businesses.

We also hosted a Mixologist's Brunch where the industry met to network, solve problems, and share ideas.

Bar Battle was our grand finale. The participating bars each sent in a bartender to compete with one another. The judges chose a winner based on the criteria in the scoring sheets, and the winner got a few gifts from the sponsors.

Lagos Cocktail week featured cocktail-centric sessions as well as seminars focused on the business side of bartending. Lagos Cocktail Week featured cocktail-centric sessions as well as seminars focused on the business side of bartending.

Tell us about the bar hop.

The bar hop concept was created for cocktail enthusiasts. We want people to experience the cocktail lifestyle. Participating bars were encouraged to create bespoke cocktails using local ingredients and gave a discount to anyone with the festival pass. Our aim was to give the customer a unique experience by sampling different cocktails at each bar.

A lineup of cocktails for judging at the fourth annual Lagos Cocktail Week. A lineup of cocktails for judging at the fourth annual Lagos Cocktail Week.

Who are some of your attendees this year?

Most of the attendees are from Lagos and other cities in Nigeria. We also have attendees from other West African countries like Ghana — they're mostly bartenders who run their own mobile bar catering companies, and others who work in hotels and bars.

What are your goals for Lagos Cocktail Week?

My main goal is to promote cocktail culture in Nigeria and Africa at large, and in turn promote interest worldwide in our cocktail culture. I also want to generate opportunities and employment for our youth.

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