World famous Buddha Bar to open in Dubai's Grosvenor House hotel. Time Out speaks to the founder of the famous watering hole
A good-natured argument has broken out between Time Out, the Grosvenor House PR and Raymond Visan, founder of Paris’ most famous watering hole, the Buddha Bar. It seems that Raymond’s new project, to recreate the chilled-out, Zen-like calm of the bar in the aforementioned hotel is more secret than the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. Although Raymond is a little nonplussed as to why. ‘They could just take a picture of me close up in the bar, couldn’t they? That way they can’t see what’s going on,’ suggests Raymond helpfully, but the PR is insistent. ‘No, I’m not even allowed in there. It’s the one thing everyone’s been talking about for the past year.’
The opening of Buddha Bar in Dubai has certainly created quite a buzz, but that’s not surprising given that Raymond Visan’s brain child, which came to life in a windowless Parisian warehouse back in 1996, has single-handedly popularised the concept of the designer bar, cross-pollinating chilled-out beats with cutting edge cuisine. Its ubiquity is such that Buddha Bar has become a musical nomenclature in its own right. ‘The idea was to create a restaurant with a live DJ that serves Asian-fusion cuisine, what you would call Pacific Rim. At the time, that type of cuisine was not in France or even in Europe,’ explains Raymond, who has a canny resemblance to a younger, slightly scruffier David Essex. ‘The space for me looked a little bit like a temple. So I decided to put a Buddha inside and call it the Buddha Bar. Then I chose a special DJ to create a special mood with the music.’ It was the music that propelled the Buddha Bar to global fame, spawning a series of massively popular CDs that helped take chill-out dance music out of hippies’ bedrooms and into the mainstream.
But despite its success, Raymond was reluctant to dilute his original vision and Dubai’s incarnation is one of only a handful of bars he has approved. So why choose Dubai, before opening one in, say, London? ‘I saw Dubai becoming a very big destination and I think it’s a good place to have a Buddha Bar,’ he says. ‘In the future, Dubai will be one of the capitals of entertainment, like Las Vegas or New York. Something is happening here.’ His philosophy hasn’t stopped the offers coming in, including some more speculative attempts at buying the Buddha Bar name. ‘I’ve had lots of propositions, even to open one in Saudi Arabia. But, of course, there would be no alcohol. So I said I would not do it.’ The other option, of course is to just fake one, as has happened in Thailand. ‘Over there, a Buddha bar isn’t politically correct, obviously,’ he admits. ‘But there’s a fake Buddha Bar in Bangkok. My friends have brought me back the CD from there. I always said to them, “I’ll be successful when I start seeing fake Buddha Bar things in Bangkok”. So I guess I’m a success now.’
Buddha Bar, Grosvenor House Hotel, open September 17.