Chalk and cheese – that’s quite literally what this understated southern French spot serves up. Amid a sea of swanky bars and flash clubs, Tolosa Bodega may not boast the sought-after fountain-side views of its Souk Al Bahar rivals, but it’s one fun and friendly Downtown Dubai nightspot encouraging patrons to embrace their playful side.
Those little pots of colourful chalk aren’t there to keep juvenile visitors entertained. Tables throughout the room are topped with blackboards, each itching to be decorated with caricatures of your date, the good-humoured waiters and that unsuspecting bloke down the other end of the bar.
A long table at the far side of the room groans under the weight of a huge variety of board games, from Connect 4 to Scrabble, Monopoly to Pictionary, setting a friendly tone that’s far more appealing than the snootier, more exclusive ambience of some of Tolosa’s neighbours.
Staff are also incredibly warm and chatty – if a little absent-minded. On our last visit, we had to ask twice if there were any drinks deals before the joyous news of a daily happy hour was revealed. No massive drama, but given how great value it is, we’d have been gutted to miss out – especially since the two-for-one deal in question meant a very generous large glass of grape cost just Dhs25. That particular deal is available daily from 6pm to 8pm, but it’s part of a string of promotions Tolosa runs, including a ladies’ night on Wednesdays with two free mixed drinks or glasses of grape, plus 30 percent off all drinks afterwards. Be sure to clear a Monday evening for fondue night, and keep an eye on the venue’s Facebook page for details on the next instalment of the hugely popular (sadly not weekly) cheese night, where you can get your fromage-frenzied mitts on unlimited quantities of the good stuff for Dhs100.
Sure, the views are what draw many visitors to Souk Al Bahar – but while it’s still too hot for a table on the terrace, being out of eyeshot of The Dubai Fountain hardly matters (and earshot, frankly a bonus). More important is quality drinks at reasonable prices, and a stylish venue. With an ambience that balances chic and easy-going in a way only the French really can, choose Tolosa and chalk yourself up a winner. Très bien.