If the (almost) all-new Ship’s Wheel has anything to live up to, it will only be the rowdy Thursday and Friday nights at the long-standing Jebel Ali Recreation Club’s original pub, harked back on by weathered, wistful regulars wearing nostalgia-tinted glasses.
In reality, the old Ship, which opened back in 1993, was long due a lot more than a lick of paint. But it wore its lovably tatty interiors like a badge of honour, and long-time punters defended its moody, smoky set-up in the face of every shiny new pub opening across Dubai. It had character, and rarely does that survive when an old institution gets modernised.
And so it is we find ourselves taking our hats well and truly off to the Jebel Ali team who have so sensitively transported the Ship into its new home, just yards away. Eagle-eyed visitors will spot the very same nautical knick-knacks, black and white pictures and stained-glass windows lining the walls at the new location, which has done a frankly astonishing job (certainly considering precedent elsewhere in Dubai) of replicating the original, right down to the noisy carpet and scarlet booths.
As we sit with a drink (still some of the best value in town, at Dhs35 a pint and Dhs29 a bottle, outside of happy hour), regulars pour in for a look at their local’s new digs, greeting the staff with cheery familiarity and nodding approvingly at the surroundings.
Almost everything has changed, and yet almost nothing has. There are still bargain nightly deals, ranging from curries to roasts, plus pool tables, dart boards and sport on glowing screens.
Revamps and relaunches will always walk a tricky line, never trickier than when you’ve legions of regulars who’ve been with you for decades. While The Ship’s Wheel may have rocked the boat, it’s also set Dubai’s benchmark for such projects.
The bottom line Sensitive, true relaunch of one of Dubai’s oldest watering holes.
The Ship’s Wheel