The Floating Bar of Lamu

Monday December 20 2021
The interior of Floating Bar.

The interior of Floating Bar. PHOTO | COURTESY | FLOATING BAR


The quiet island of Lamu is probably the last place you would expect to find an eatery that serves alcohol. But the Floating Bar and Restaurant of Lamu has become a popular destination, owned and run by proprietor Frida Njogu.

The rustic wooden restaurant with a makuti roof is located on the Indian ocean, between Shela and Manda Islands. It is kept afloat by about 200 huge, plastic pressurised barrels that also provide stability against the rocking motion.

“I thought the idea of a floating restaurant was brilliant, and it attracts lots of tourists, both domestic and international,” said the 38-year-old who is an accountant. “That is why I wanted to rescue the business.”

The original owner of Floating Bar pulled out in 2014 because of business challenges brought on by terror attacks in the region.

However, Njogu was confident about the viability of the business model so she resigned from her job and bought the restaurant.

I met her a couple of months ago when a group of us had dinner at her seaborne eatery. A hands-on manager, she was busy supervising the operations and mingling with guests.


“I enjoy meeting many people from different backgrounds each day. It is educational and I become more informed by learning from my guests, which makes me love my job even more,” she said.

After a cheerful welcome, we sat on the west-facing deck sipping sundowner cocktails and watching the sun set over Shela Island. Two or three different lounge areas with woven floor mats and walls allows separation of groups. A long dining table can host a large party of diners.

Delectable aromas wafted in from a barbecue grill where large whole fish were roasting. A sea breeze kept the atmosphere cool and was particularly welcome later in the night when the DJ played dance music.

Food for all

To cater to the broad tastes of the patrons, Njogu has created a menu that includes both seafood and local dishes — a variety of freshly caught ocean delicacies provided by Lamu’s fishermen prepared to order. Our group indulged in prawns, lobster, crab and grilled whole fish, so wholesome that all they needed was kachumbari and a squeeze of lemon. In addition, there was ugali, traditional greens, chips, beef stew, and other more familiar dishes.

At the fully-stocked bar are chilled drinks of all kinds.

Njogu has lived in Lamu since the age of eight so she has an intimate understanding of the cultural norms. However, being a Christian woman running a popular outlet that serves alcohol has its pros and cons.

“Some people look down on me like a mere bar owner because Lamu is a Muslim community. But they also respect me for being one of the strongest and hardest working women in Lamu,” she says.

Today she is a pillar of the tourism industry, Lamu’s main economic sector, and is currently the vice chair of the Lamu Tourism Association.

Although Lamu suffered a huge decline in tourism due to the Covid-19 pandemic, visitors are slowly returning.

Domestic tourism

Says Njogu, “Domestic tourism in Lamu is increasing more than internationals at the moment, and the upcoming new Lamu port has also helped.”

Jambojet has recently resumed flying to Lamu after a four-year break, and together with Skyward Express, there are daily flights from Nairobi and Mombasa. On our visit to Floating Bar the majority of patrons were Kenyans with just a few foreign tourists.

Due to the festive atmosphere at Floating Bar, Njogu’s work days sometimes go on until the early hours of morning. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Floating Bar has been tagged by happy customers as the "best place for nightlife in Lamu".

Njogu plans to add floating cottages to the package. “

It all comes from a passion I had of owning the business, of bringing it back up and not letting it go.”