Dhaka's hot new hangout
ALTHOUGH Bangladesh is a country full of sports fanatics, the capital had little by way of getting them together under one roof to enjoy the object of their obsession, be it football, cricket, or even game consoles that always seem to be growing in popularity as well as mind-boggling technologies. The Bench, a sports café, and probably the city's first genuine one, has gone about rectifying this in admirable fashion.
Sports, whether one is playing or following them, have the potential to bring people together. It offers the priceless opportunity to forget the rigours of life and, for a short time, immerse oneself in a world where the rules are fairer, and the outcome of a contest is not a life-or-death matter, unless you are a fanatic.
It is that power of sport to draw people closer that Efaz Rahman Khan and Sara F Ahmad, the two managing owners of the café, sought to bring out in The Bench.
“I remember in 2004 when I went to Bangkok with a group of friends, and I wanted to watch the football matches going on at the time,” said Khan, elaborating on the origins of his idea of opening a sports café.
“Unfortunately, none of my friends were football fans, so I went to a sports bar to watch the game all by myself. At first I thought that I would be bored watching it alone, that I would just watch the game and come back. But, to my surprise, I had a great time, bonding with other supporters of my team. I found myself going back there two or three times during our stay, and I made quite a few friends.
“That's the kind of atmosphere I had in mind when we opened this café. And I noticed that after one of our game nights, lots of people who did not arrive together were joking and talking with each other. That's what happened to me in the sports bar in Bangkok, and I was delighted to see that The Bench was bringing people together in similar fashion.”
Walking into the premises, the first thing one notices is the “sports tree”. Hanging from the branches of the tree are various sporting paraphernalia such as cricket bats, gloves, badminton rackets, etc. Beyond that is the outdoor dining area, with chairs and tables shaded by umbrellas set out on the lawn.
Entering the café, one is again reminded of its theme when greeted by a panoramic image of Barcelona's home stadium, Nu Camp, hanging over the door. The interior has been cosily decorated, all by co-owner Ahmad, with the striped wallpaper mirroring the football jerseys that are so popular among fans.
A flat screen TV continually features one sport or another, depending on what's on at the time. The walls are dotted with posters of famous sports stars, as well as those of iconic stadia.
Further in is the juice bar with stools lining the counter, and opposite that is the gaming area, where customers can choose between a range of consoles to engage in cutting edge gameplay. The café has a good collection of games, and the customers can also bring their own and start playing. Wii seems to be the hot favourite at the moment.
“Game nights are always big events,” Khan said. “At first, we didn't charge for entry, but after a particular night when over seven hundred people got in, when we had seating for only four hundred and fifty, we had to introduce a hundred taka fee for entry, with drink and fries included.”
Also, the timing of the games, especially the Champions Trophy going on in Europe, means that on game nights the café remains open till early morning. Great care is also taken to ensure that the place is safe and that no rowdiness occurs. “We are very strict on this point. We have zero tolerance for unruly behaviour, and there have been no untoward incidents as such.”
The café, though, isn't just about sport. With a diverse menu that includes burgers and sandwiches, Italian, Mexican, Indian and Oriental food, all at reasonable prices, The Bench is also a haunt of employees of the numerous corporate offices in the area.
“We get a lot of business during the lunch hour, and office-workers on their lunch breaks can come and have a meal that will set them back by just Tk. 200, max.”
They also have a private room that can be booked by parties of eight or more. The café's popularity can be gauged by the fact that this private room has already been booked for all the Football World Cup's knockout games and all of Brazil's matches, that too more than a month and a half in advance.
A final layer to The Bench's appeal is that it hosts events regularly. It opened with performances by Ornob, Emille, and Nemesis, and the owners want to continue in that vein.
On 14 May, for instance they hosted a Salsa night, with a Tk. 200 entry fee that included basic salsa lessons, a salsa show, and dinner. A week later they plan to host the band Black in an interactive session where band members will talk to the audience and answer their questions on song lyrics, etc.
Jointly owned by seven family members including Khan and Ahmad, The Bench is indeed a departure from the usual fare.
Customer satisfaction seems to be a top priority for those in charge, as evidenced by the great deals and reasonable prices. It is a place where friends who do not want to leak currency can go and relax, and make other friends through their common love of sport. Whether you are a sports lover or not, The Bench will have something for you.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
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