There’s far more to Downtown than the world’s tallest building
When the Burj Khalifa began its rise out of the desert towards the Dubai sun in 2004, the city was starting to boom. And by the time the fireworks crowned the tower’s record-breaking opening in January 2010, Dubai was a very different place. Yet despite being surrounded by the world’s largest mall, the tallest fountains and increasingly stylish hotels, many doomsday experts – commenting soon after its opening, amid the global financial crisis – predicted that the tower would become the world’s largest white elephant, and would cast a long shadow over the surrounding area.
They couldn’t have been more wrong. Today, queues twist around the block with buyers hoping to snap up apartments and residences in the surrounding towers. Sales at The Dubai Mall rocketed by 25 percent last year, and the shopping magnet will soon make a start on a multi-million dollar expansion. Buses give tours of the area and classic cars whizz past excited shoppers on rented bicycles, while residents debate whether to meet friends at the local writers’ club or head to Burj Park for an al-fresco yoga class.
What was once considered a business-driven and slightly soulless area has gained character, style and a proud group of residents. Here we round up some of the recent highlights and reveal exciting future developments, taking in the Burj Khalifa area, DIFC, Emirates Towers, Business Bay and along Sheikh Zayed Road.
New! Play parks Appealing to the growing number of families in the area, Downtown has introduced free wooden play parks for kids. Situated next to the Pavilion and opposite the Burj Khalifa, they house swings, slides and playhouses.
New! Bike rentals European-style bikes fcan now be hired at various stations in the area. Operated by a German-based firm, the two-wheeled treats can be found at stations close to the Burj Khalifa. Look out for our review next week. From Dhs15 for 30 minutes. www.bykystations.com.
New! The Dubai Mall Walk Want to get a free breakfast and T-shirt? Fitness First organises mall walks every Sunday at 7.30am. Visitors are welcomed with a warm-up session and free breakfast from Canadian donut king Tim Hortons. To register, visit any guest service centre desk at The Dubai Mall or head to Fitness First’s Al Manzil Club. Free. Until March 31 (04 437 0576).
New! Free power yoga Yoga lovers have a new reason to be extra zen, with another new class added to the city’s growing list. Dubai instructor Christina Wifﬁn will be making the most of the great weather by holding power yoga classes in Downtown’s Burj Park. From Dhs45 per session. christinawifﬁn@hotmail.com.
Design Days Dubai This is the first fair in the Middle East and South Asia dedicated to collectible and limited-edition furniture and design pieces. Last year, the event showcased rare objects and wacky pieces of furniture from 22 of the world’s top galleries. The launch will be in The Pavilion, and the programme will be announced soon. March 18-21. www.designdaysdubai.ae.
Burj Park A spectacular green addition to Downtown’s urban jungle, this 1.5-hectare park offers breathtaking views of Burj Khalifa and at night the entire park is illuminated by specially designed light cubes.
The Pavilion A major catalyst in the development of the artistic and cultural heart of Downtown, this non-profit contemporary art space can be adapted to host fashion shows, indie films, exhibitions or red-carpet parties. The venue includes two art galleries, a restaurant, a cinema, a library and an outdoor shisha spot and a lounge. It also hosts START, a non-profit organisation established by Art Dubai and the Al Madad Foundation, which uses art to heal, educate and develop the skills of children in the poorest areas of the region. Classes are run by a local artist, and run every two weeks on Tuesdays at 3.30pm until Tuesday May 21. www.pavilion.ae (04 4477025).
The Boulevard Bus Tour Discover Dubai’s newest neighbourhood on this specially designed bus, which offers visitors and curious residents unobstructed views of the area’s architectural sights. For Dhs5 a day, users can hop on and off at leisure. www.mydowntowndubai.com.
Dubai Writers’ Club Budding novelists and book critics: a writers’ group takes place regularly at The Pavilion. Have your work critiqued or just listen to the latest work from your peers. www.meetup.com/dubaiwriters.
Coming Soon! Emirates Classic Car Festival The three-day Emirates Classic Car Festival, kicking off on Thursday March 7, considers itself the Middle East’s premier showcase of classic cars. So what makes a car a classic? In Dubai, this is considered anything pre-1983. The festival is organised in association with the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE: the area near Al Manzil Hotel will have a fair-like ambience with refreshment stalls and colourful parades. www.emiratesclassiccarfestival.com.
Coming Soon! Studio F France’s Fashion TV is aiming to play to the Downtown’s glitterati with the opening of a new venture, Studio F, in nearby Emirates Towers. Incorporating elements of fashion and food, the venue can hold up to 600 people and will feature LCD catwalks and TV screens broadcasting the latest fashions. During the day it will act as a professional fashion studio offering masterclasses and tutorials, while in the evening it will transform into a bar, restaurant and exclusive VIP lounge. www.boulevarddubai.com.
Coming Soon! Dubai Fountain ferries If you believe the Chinese whispers in Downtown, organisers are planning to launch boat trips that will cruise in and around the waterworks, similar to those at Niagara Falls. Watch this space.
New! Le Bar While its profile may not be as high as the other venues on this list, Al Manzil’s new chilled pool lounge is a great place for a low-key wind-down. Open daily 11am-1am. Al Manzil Hotel, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard (04 428 6809).
New! Vault Officially the tallest hotel bar in the world (not to be confused with the Burj Khalifa’s At.mosphere, which isn’t in a hotel), the new JW Marriott Marquis’s flagship bar offers staggering views across Downtown’s burgeoning cityscape, as well as impeccable style and a huge drinks menu. Open daily 5pm-3am. JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, Business Bay (04 414 3000).
New! VIP Room Among the most talked-about venues in the city right now, the recent arrival of St Tropez’s VIP Room is a sure sign that the area is booming. Well worth a look. Open Tue, Thu-Fri 11pm-3am. JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, Business Bay (04 388 1500).
District Lounge For years District Lounge has been an exclusive hangout reserved for members of DIFC’s Capital Club. Then at the tail end of 2012 it tentatively began opening to the public on Fridays – and the club’s recent expansion into Thursday nights is all the proof you need that it’s now all going down in Downtown. Open Thu-Fri 10pm-3am. DIFC (050 880 2285).
Coming Soon! 40 Kong We’re expecting special things from 40 Kong, a new Asian-themed lounge bar on the 40th floor of The H Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, from the Crystal team behind the award-winning People, at Raffles.
Coming Soon! The Act All eyes are on The Act right now. Set to open in the coming weeks on the 42nd and 43rd floor of the Shangri-La, it will be the highest theatre club in the world. But as anyone who’s been to the Las Vegas original will know, it’s not exactly Shakespeare. Known for raunchy burlesque-style shows, the world is waiting to see how it goes down in Dubai.
Coming Soon! Sake No Hana Originally founded by Alan Yau, the man behind Hakkasan and Wagamama, London’s high-end Japanese eatery Sake No Hana is renowned worldwide.Set to be opened by the Crystal team in the heart of Souk Al Bahar, the Dubai venue will also feature a stylish lounge area.
New! Patiala Advertised as the only authentic fine-dining, fully licensed Indian restaurant in Downtown, residents have already been testing its claim since it opened in late February. Open daily noon-4pm, 6pm-2am. Souk Al Bahar, www.patiala.ae (04 451 9151).
New! Bennigans The American-Irish chain, offering Angus beef dishes, debuted at the Claren building in January. A new outlet is imminent at The Dubai Mall. Open Sun-Thu noon-midnight; Fri-Sat noon-1am. Claren building, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard (04 451 7800).
The Palace Café This exotic, romantic-looking café, with carpeted sofas and shisha-smoking guests, is directly under the gaze of the Burj Khalifa. Open daily 9am-midnight. The Palace, The Old Town (04 428 7890).
Pizzaro A reliable, laid-back spot for quick, easy Italian food – good for a quick bite. Open daily 10am-midnight. Unlicensed. Opposite Qamardeen Hotel, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard (04 422 5666).
Tapeo This new tapas bar allows you to watch the chefs in action around the compact open kitchen. Open Sun-Wed 10am-10pm, Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. Unlicensed. Galeries Lafayette, The Dubai Mall (050 910 3249).
Caffe Vergnano This chain has apparently been showing off its coffee know-how since 1882, and claims to be the oldest independent roastery in Italy. Open Sun-Wed 8am-11pm; Thu-Sat 8am-midnight. The Dubai Mall, www.caffevergnano.com (056 274 4779).
Coming Soon! Fuego The name of this contemporary Mexican venue is inspired by ‘fire’ or ‘flame’: Mexican chillies are used as a central ingredient in most dishes. Owners are aiming for a March opening. Souk Al Bahar, www.fuego.ae (04 449 0977).
Coming Soon! Aprons and Hammers As with the existing branch at Dubai Marine Club, guests at this new venue will be given their own apron, hammer and a bucket of freshly-caught crab and more, though it won’t be served on a dhow this time, as far as we know. The Address Downtown Dubai, www.apronsandhammers.com (no number).
Coming Soon! BOCA BOCA’s owners say the DIFC restaurant will open in spring 2013, featuring the cuisines of France, Italy and Spain. Gate Village 6, DIFC, www.boca.ae (04 323 1833).
New! West Elm Brooklyn home decor and furnishings brand West Elm takes a contemporary approach to living spaces – its designs have unique shapes and embody an eclectic New York loft feel. The Dubai Mall (04 388 2589).
New! Lush Dubaians can’t seem to get enough of the wafting aromas from beauty store Lush. The British retailer has been getting so much footfall at its store at The Dubai Mall that it plans to open a second store within the mall this year, near the metro, to capture all the trafﬁc. The Dubai Mall (04 435 6114).
New! Bobbi Brown Make-up artist Bobbi Brown made his mark in the Middle East in February with the opening of The Studio at The Dubai Mall. Here consumers can test products out or get on-the-spot lessons from the in-store make-up artists. The Dubai Mall (04 212 3617).
New! PF Emirates design and interiors This Abu Dhabi-based showroom has now set up in Downtown, offering modern bedroom and dining options plus products from leading Italian interiors company Poltrana Frau. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, opposite Burj Khalifa (04 325 3283).
Level Shoe District The world’s largest department store dedicated exclusively to shoes was unveiled at The Dubai Mall in October: the 8,900 sq m store offers 15,000 pairs of shoes from 250 different brands. ‘The idea is to create a place for men and women who love shoes, who are passionate about shoes, who are addicted to shoes, who are obsessed with shoes,’ says Patrick Chalhoub, the man behind the concept. The previous record holder of the largest shoe outlet was Macy’s in New York. The Dubai Mall, www.levelshoedistrict.com (04 5016 888).
The Zoo This much-loved purveyor of cool has opened a space within The Dubai Mall’s Level Shoe District. Part art gallery, part retail space, it features home design pieces including lamps and furniture, as well as books, toys, electronics and unusual gifts from more than 20 brands. Within Level Shoe District, The Dubai Mall (055 402 8469).
Kardashian Kollection Kim Kardashian brought The Dubai Mall to a standstill when she visited in 2011. Now Dubai fans can look and shop like the woman herself: her fashion brand is available at UK retailer Dorothy Perkins. The Dubai Mall, www.dorothyperkins.com (04 325 3885).
Only in Dubai!
Robotic car park DIFC is now home to the world’s biggest robotic parking facility. For Dhs5 an hour it will tuck your car away safely in the large storage facility and retrieve it for you on demand when you’re ready to leave. Never again will you need to worry about fighting for a space…
The future: Downtown’s continued rise
Real estate agents, shop assistants and waiters across the city will tell you Downtown is now the most sought-after address for an apartment, a store or a meal deal, and this is set to continue. Last March, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and vice president of the UAE, unveiled plans to establish a cultural district in the vicinity, which will include a museum, two art hotels, an opera house and several design studios. Christened The Dubai Modern Art Museum and Opera House District, developers are planning up to 50 art galleries for the area.
On top of this, The Dubai Mall is seeking to retain its title as the world’s largest mall and is set to start work on a 93,000 sq m extension, which will include luxury homes, serviced residences and another new hotel. The Dubai Mall already boasts 1,200 retail stores and 160 food and drink outlets, and attracted more than 54 million shoppers in the first nine months of last year – that’s already up 15 percent compared to 2011.
Time to make the move to Downtown?
Mohammed Mukram, a community specialist at Dubai real estate agency Better Homes, outlines the options.
The Lofts ‘This community of three towers is close to the Burj Khalifa metro station. It is affordable for renters, with one-bed apartments starting from Dhs80,000 a year, and two-beds from Dhs120,000. Many of the apartments have views of the Burj Khalifa.’
Burj Views ‘This is another community of three towers offered by Emaar. These are economical, with facilities including indoor basketball court, squash court, two resort-like swimming pools and two gyms. Rent for a one-bed starts from Dhs75,000, with two-beds from Dhs110,000 to Dhs125,000.’
South Ridge ‘A six-tower development near The Old Town, set slightly back from the main boulevard. It’s home to a small Spinneys, plus a Caribou Coffee, among other amenities. One-bed apartments start at Dhs80,000, while two-beds start at Dhs125,000 to Dhs140,000.
Burj Khalifa ‘Yes, you can live in the tallest tower in the world! A one bedroom starts from Dhs150,000, with two-beds from Dhs220,000 to Dhs250,000, depending on the view.’
Why i love downtown Robert, 32, lawyer Nationality: Norwegian. Lived in Downtown: 18 months. ‘I love how the Boulevard has gone from a construction site to a café street and now even has bikes to rent. I love The Dubai Mall, the souks, the Burj and the park, but most of all the buzz.’
Why i love downtown Paul, 32, retail manager Nationality: English. Lived in Downtown: 2.5 years. ‘The best part of Downtown is the pavements – they’re extra-wide so you can meander aimlessly and safely, which isn’t possible everywhere in Dubai. My only gripe with the area is the shortage of ATMs.’
Why i love downtown Ade, 36 recruitment consultant Nationality: Pakistani. Lived in Downtown: Two years. ‘Loads of new restaurants and cafés have just opened within five minutes’ walk of my apartment. The area could do with more traditional pubs, but the ease of getting to everywhere more than makes up for it.’