A woman reading a book as she sips beer is the sight that greets me when I walk into The Happier Tilapia, a simple bar and a cultural centre. The old timers, would recall that it was originally called Sliders. It is located right opposite the market in Bunga.
The story behind the name is just as interesting as the name itself. Florence Kebirungi, the proprietor of the hangout, explains that she picked the name “Tilapia” from a nickname a customer gave her at her former job.
“I refused to give him credit, so he said: ‘You! You look like a tilapia!’, so the name stuck and my boyfriend suggested that we name the place tilapia,” she explains.
If the thought of cold beer is not what brings you to The Happier Tilapia, then it will be the tilapia, which should be the big offering here since the bar and restaurant is located near the Ggaba fishing village.
The Happier Tilapia is not as splendid as today’s modern bars with their laser lights bouncing off the walls, picture-perfect ambience and fine touches. It is an average bar with a small lounge, an averagely stocked bar and located just by the roadside.
However, if you care for art and painted African designs at that, then you will find The Happier Tilapia inviting. And as you appreciate the art you will be soothed by live music — African funk, old soul and roots reggae.
There is a hall behind the lounge and bar where performances take place. This is no place for airs since every patron is, however, simply a reveller out to have a good time out. That is part of the challenges the staff is experiencing thus far.
Kebirungi says some customers like to be pampered more than others. However, she says she likes to treat customers as equals.
“We are not going to change that. Someone recently asked if we can limit smoking. That is a fair point so we are going to create no smoking zones,” she further explains.
She adds, “Sometimes we are too informal. We are working to make the restaurant better too. Give us time to improve these things. Meanwhile, people respect what we do and so we are going to keep on struggling and just thank our customers for all the support they have given us over the years.”
The hangout’s location has two sides to it. On the one hand The Happier Tilapia is on the main road and naturally visible and accessible. However, the downside is that Bunga is not yet that attractive and fashionable with music and cinema fans.
She explains, “This has been a serious problem because people wrongly think Bunga is located on the moon or in another continent whereas we are actually very easy to reach, only 20 minutes from town, if there is no traffic.”
Trying to bring in the numbers
Kebirungi says The Happier Tilapia currently provides a platform for Ugandan artists to reach an audience. They have provided a stage for both upcoming and established artists, without the customers paying too much for the entertainment. Most of the events here are free.
Even then, business is not brisk. “To be honest, the economic situation in Uganda for our sector is very harsh. Bars and clubs this side of town are seriously struggling, and so are we,” the proprietor reveals.
She adds, “Our friend who runs a pub in Munyonyo is doing well but sometimes he complains that we steal his business when we have live bands on Friday.
Apart from that, Kabalagala is always the hot spot for most people this side, but without boasting, no one is really doing what we do, this side of town.”
One thing is clear, Kebirungi needs to draw in more people by marketing her place more shrewdly because the music performances are a good hook and so are the movie screenings.
if you go
Venue. The Happier Tilapia, Bunga.
Food. The highlight of the menu is fried tilapia, fresh from Lake Victoria, a few kilometres away. It will cost you Shs20,000 for the medium size and
Shs25,000 for the large size.
Drinks. Beers are at Shs4,000 while soft drinks are Shs1,000.
Entertainment. Live African funk, old soul and roots reggae music plus movie screenings.