Time Out profiles some of Dubai's oldest restaurants, bars and things to do, including legendary bars, restaurants and shopping malls
By Dominic Beesley06 October 2016
Time Out Dubai might be older than a lot of places in the city – and some districts, too – but there are a lot of venues that have been around even longer.
It’s hard to believe, but things still happened here before Time Out was around to write about them. Some places have been and gone, but we’re here to celebrate the survivors. They’re loved by the people that live here, who keep going back, and have become institutions in their own right, from malls and restaurants to pubs and bookshops. And they would be…
Nowadays it seems like there’s a shopping mall on every street corner, so it’s strange thinking that before 1980, there weren’t any big shopping centres in Dubai. That’s when Al Ghurair Centre first opened in Deira. It’s changed since then, of course. There was an expansion in 2012, and the mall now has more than 300 shops, from Matalan to Sports Direct, as well a five-star hotel and a cinema.
Located in the centre of old Dubai, Al Nasr Leisureland has been a popular destination ever since it opened in 1979. While it might be overshadowed by the newer places and facilities that have opened since, it’s still worth a look. There’s a lot to do at this theme park and sports complex, with bowling alleys, an ice rink, and tennis and squash courts. There are also water slides and a swimming pool. You don’t even have to do any sports while you’re there, since there are plenty of restaurants and a concert venue, too. Dhs10 per person, Dhs5 (children under 11).
This bakery on Al Wasl road has been a favourite of Dubai residents for years. It specialises in Arabic baked goods, from saj bread to cheese manakish, as well as shawarmas or shish taouk. Al Reef is open 24 hours, so you can stop off for some emergency bread and melted cheese at any time of the day or night.
Al Ustad Special Kabab has been open since 1978, although you might know it by a different name – it was called Special Ostadi until relatively recently. This Iranian restaurant in Bur Dubai is cosy, but usually packed, and the menu mainly consists of kebabs. It’s cheap, too, and the décor is eclectic – the walls are covered in photos of some of the customers who’ve eaten there over the last 38 years.
Barasti has been around even longer than Time Out Dubai, if you can believe it. It first opened in 1995, when it was just a small shack on the beach next to what is now Dubai Marina. Now, 21 years later, it’s one of the city’s biggest and most popular beach bars, and keeps on growing. In 2013, it was featured in a list of the top ten best beach bars in the world. Over the years it has hosted plenty of concerts, with artists like Will Smith, Toploader and Vanilla Ice taking to the stage.
This English pub claims to be the first pub in Dubai, and since it opened way back in 1978, when most of Dubai didn’t even exist, no-one’s going to argue. It’s definitely one of the oldest. The Chelsea Arms is in the lobby of the Sheraton Dubai Creek in Deira, which was also one of the first hotels here, and although the hotel was recently renovated, the Chelsea Arms is still pretty much exactly how it was back in the day.
Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club opened all the way back in 1993. The 18-hole golf course has since been named one of the world’s top 100, and you’ll probably recognise the iconic clubhouse, designed to resemble the sails of a traditional dhow. The first golf academy in the Middle East opened here, and there’s also a marina – it’s a yacht club as well, of course. When it first opened, it hosted some of the biggest concerts in Dubai, and both Rod Stewart and Elton John performed have here in the past.
You’ll find Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa at the end of Jumeirah Beach Road (or the beginning, depending on where you’re coming from), and has been popular ever since it opened back in 1989. The city’s grown around it, but the resort is still there, with a hotel, spa, swimming pools and a private beach. It comes alive at night, though, with more than 12 bars and restaurants to visit, including Malecon, Sho Cho and Club Boudoir. If you stay the night at the hotel, there are also plenty of tourist attractions to visit, from Jumeirah Mosque to Dubai Zoo.
You can travel the world at Global Village, without ever going anywhere near the airport. The theme park is only open for around six months of the year, but still attracts millions of visitors. Global Village started in 1996 by the Dubai Creek, with stalls representing different countries from around the world, but eventually moved to a purpose-built venue near Arabian Ranches. There are shops, restaurants, fairground rides and replicas of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
House of Prose is Dubai’s largest second-hand bookshop, and probably the oldest one, too. There are two branches now, with one at the Dubai Garden Centre, but the original opened in Jumeirah Plaza Shopping Centre on Beach Road almost 20 years ago, and it’s still going strong. As well as selling cheap books, they’ll also buy any of your unwanted reads, and you can return any that you buy there to get half your money back.
Dubai is well known for its penchant for breaking records, and this bar is no exception. As the name implies, it has a long bar – the longest bar in Dubai, in fact. Tucked away in the basement of the Towers Rotana, it’s as popular now as it was when it opened back in 2000. Decorated like an English pub, it’s full of television screens and partygoers.
You’ll find Ravi Restaurant near the big roundabout in Satwa – it will probably be the restaurant with people sat at every table. It’s one of Dubai’s most popular Pakistani restaurants, famous for being one of the city’s “hidden gems”, and has been around since the late 1970s. The décor hasn’t changed much since then, and neither have the prices. Everything is delicious as well as cheap, which is why everyone still raves about it.
When you first come across The Irish Village, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled across an actual Irish village in the middle of Garhoud, near the airport. Designed to look like a traditional street – even the paving stones were shipped over from the Emerald Isle – the bar opened in 1996 and is attached to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium. There are regular concerts there from the likes of Bob Geldof (who’s almost a regular), UB40 and The Human League.
The Trader Vic’s that appeared on Sheikh Zayed Road in 1994 was one of the first branches of the Polynesian bar and restaurant to open in the Middle East. A handful of others have opened in Dubai since, but this one, on the third floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, is the oldest and still one of the liveliest. With Hawaiian mixed beverages and plenty of tiki statues, you can pretend you’re on a tropical island.
Wild Wadi was one of Dubai’s first waterparks, in the shadow of the then-recently opened Burj Al Arab (which welcomed its first guests in the same year) and it’s still one of the biggest, having been updated a few years ago. When it opened in 1999, the Jumeirah Sceirah was the tallest waterslide outside of North America, and although it’s been updated since, it’s still one of the ten tallest in the world. Elsewhere in the park, there are dozens of slides, a wave pool, and a surfing simulator. Dhs250 (less than 1.1m tall), Dhs295 (above 1.1m tall).