Dakar is the thriving coastal capital of Senegal with a bar scene to match. From the hustle and bustle of downtown Plateau to the hidden inlets of Almadies’s Petite Corniche, Dakar’s bars come in all shapes and sizes. Here are the hippest hangouts on the Cap-Vert Peninsula.
Dakar is a cosmopolitan capital with drinking holes to suit all tastes. From five star hotels to the rough and tumble of backstreet pool halls, buzzing rooftops to tranquil beach bars, getting a drink in Dakar comes with a wide variety of settings. In the more upmarket hangouts, cocktails are expertly made, the wine list features well-known vintages and the beers are served on draught. Go less-polished and the spirits are local, the wine choice is lean and chest freezers keep the bottles of beer fresh. As most Dakarois don’t drink, there is no signature cocktail, but two beers are omnipresent: Gazelle (lighter) and Flag (more depth).
Bayékou is fast becoming a Dakar institution. A stone’s throw from Ngor Beach in the north of Dakar, Bayékou is a classy, open-sided roof terrace. Blending a heady mix of stylish decking, cosy alcoves and West African decor with well-mixed cocktails, eclectic beats and an ‘anything goes’ vibe, it’s not hard to see why. Throw in the conviviality of the staff and the exquisite Italian-fusion menu (think ceviche, poké bowls and tuna tartare alongside pastas, gnocchi and carpaccios) and Bayékou ticks all the boxes.
Like a bar with a view? Well, Le Phare has certainly got that. Nestled on top of one of Dakar’s Mamelles (‘breasts’ in French), two hills on the city’s western corniche, this stylish restaurant-bar at the base of a 19th-century lighthouse boasts some of the best views of the city’s coastline. A shuttle service ferries you from the bottom of the hill to a swanky open-air veranda that hosts a wide program of events. Open Thursday to Sunday, there is a 5,000 West African CFA franc (£6.40) entry fee, but the lively atmosphere and free drink more than make up for the outlay.
Le Viking is the closest thing to a pub in Dakar, and it’s a lively neighbourhood pub at that. In the heart of downtown, a few minutes from the Place de l’Indépendence, Le Viking is open late – split into two levels, the lower bar offers a TV-dominated alcove with cushioned benches that transforms into karaoke stage on weekend evenings. Head upstairs to find a retreat of tall red booths and African sculptures – the ideal spot to grab a drink before heading on to the nearby Plateau nightclubs, such as Silencio, Calypso and King’s.
On the beach? Check. Hammocks and swings? Check. A boat transformed into a bar? Check. Chez Max is one of Dakar’s worst-kept secrets. Hidden away on the tiny Plage de Mamelles, this is the beach bar from heaven, Dakar-style. Think car seats wedged into the sand, driftwood tables, shell sculptures, and handmade masks made from recycled plastic. Reggae beats mellow out the speakers to add to the laid-back atmosphere that is personified by Max himself. This daytime spot is one of the best places to spend a lazy day with a chilled beer in hand before taking in the infamous west African sunset.
Xorbi may not have a beach or a rooftop, but it more than makes up for it with its sprawling enclosed courtyard, filled with palm trees and fairy lights. In the heart of Fann Hock, Xorbi (pronounced ‘horbi’) can easily be missed from its indiscernible exterior, but the inside is anything but. A rowdy bar jam-packed with a clientele from across the African continent, Xorbi is one of the best-value places to drink and eat in large quantities. Dibi (Senegalese BBQ) can be ordered by the kilo and beers are served in hefty 660ml bottles. If there is football on, rest assured that Xorbi will be playing it on its two large projector screens.
Plum centre of the Ngor strip, Le Patio has something of a mercurial reputation: an excellent dining spot gradually transforms into a lively bar, which then evolves into a pulsating late-night party with its own nightclub. No matter which Le Patio’s incarnation you opt for, the bouncers on the door will ensure the clientele are looking the part to stroll down its red carpet, which then opens up into a tree-filled patio – hence the name – surrounded by cushioned sofa-booths and two bars.
Despite its name, Secret Spot is not secret at all. Nestled above a small stretch of beach on Alamdies’s Petite Corniche, this Dakar stalwart even comes up on Google Maps. Named after the surf spot it overlooks, this chilled beachside bar is the hangout of choice for Senegal’s surf community. Especially vibrant in the late afternoon, the bar also serves up foot-long baguettes and some of the best-priced beers in town. Watch the sun disappear into the Atlantic while being mesmerised by the action on the waves.
Although a French cultural centre might not scream ‘funky drinking spot’, L’Institut Français is not just any old cultural centre. In the thick of Plateau, its tranquil garden Bidew Bar, complete with colourful mosaic tables and a bounty of pot plants, is a world away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Dakar. A great place to escape the rush or meet friends for a casual drink, L’Institut Français also has an eye-watering programme of events each month, ranging from visual art exhibitions and lively debates to Senegalese rap nights and choreographed dance routines.
Situated close to the Phare (‘lighthouse’) in Mamelles, Hotel du Phare was not content with just one rooftop so they added another above. This twice-roofed top has become a stalwart on a Thursday night, with DJs playing funky house tunes as the clientele groove with a Ti-punch drink in their hand, while on Tuesday evenings the lower rooftop rolls out a projector and comfy seating for a movie night (most films are in French or English with French subtitles). In addition, the bar has its own Gino and Gino pizzeria in the corner for those feeling peckish.
Disclaimer: Le Mermoz is not going to win any interior-design or exterior-view awards, but charm and character are not the sole reserve of beach bars and rooftops, and Le Mermoz has those in abundance. Popular with locals, Le Mermoz is divided into three sections: the initial interior bar with leather sofas and sport on the TV; the small outside courtyard and BBQ, and the billiards hall complete with four pool tables. Dakar’s pool bars are few and far between (Le Terminus by the end of bus line 7 in Ouakam is another stand out), but Le Mermoz is the perfect place to nail some pots and sip cheap cold beers.
Unsurprisingly for one of Dakar’s most luxurious hotels, Terrou-Bi’s La Terrasse bar can boast a drinks menu as extensive as its panoramic views. Situated alongside the hotel’s private beach and swimming pool, the terrace extends out into the Atlantic Ocean offering up views of the endless blue, while the kitchen whips up a wide variety of international and local dishes at reasonable prices. Wide sofa seats, attentive service and subtle tropical decor, La Terrasse nails down the laid-back lounge vibe. It’s the place to chomp on a cigar and tuck into a bottle of rosé.