Blues and Cues
Dubai might be multinational, but it certainly isn’t multicultural. Each tribe has its own restaurants, cafés, bars and even nightclubs. But Blues and Cues is one of those rare places that doesn’t discriminate. By day and during weeknights, Blues and Cues is a sleepy little pool bar but at the weekends it erupts into a sweaty club where the dance floor is packed full of Filipinos, Arabs and Westerners, both male and female, cutting some rug to mid-’90s dance classics. But the highlight has to be the Sri Lankan rock band, complete with Slavic dancing girls, who come on every hour or so to play faultless versions of classic head-banging numbers.
Blues and Cues, Ramada Continental, Abu Hail, Deira (04 266 2666)
Havana Club Hotel
No, we haven’t spelt Churchil wrongly. Well, we have but only because that’s how they spell it down at the Havana Club Hotel. Churchil’s bar is a cross between a provincial French watering hole and a British boozer and is packed with both tourists and locals enjoying bottles of (very cheap) beer, smoking shisha, playing pool or watching football. The resulting atmosphere is cosy, friendly and filled with smoke and modern Arabic dance music. A must-visit if you find yourself thirsty near the Fish roundabout.
Churchil, Havana Club Hotel, Deira (04 227 1711)
Rush Inn Hotel
It’s a refreshing experience stepping off Bank Street in Bur Dubai and into the heart of Africa. Okay, so the dodgy plastic palm trees and Indian waiters remind us that we are actually in another themed hotel bar and not a sub-Saharan shebeen, but the predominantly African clientele and eclectic soundtrack more than compensate. The highlight of our visit was an enthusiastic dancer who did an obviously well rehearsed Jacko-style moonwalk to every song, regardless of the nature of the tune being played, before being ejected by the bouncers for his misguided love of ’80s dance. Still, moonwalker or no moonwalker, the huge band that passionately performs wonderfully rambling African tunes is well worth making the trip for.
Club Africana, Rush Inn Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 352 2235)
Dubai is awash with sports bars for those who like nothing better that to sip on a pint of two and watch burly men kick chunks out of each other. But Cricketer’s is the one and only place in town dedicated to the gentleman’s game. The ground floor bar is surprisingly comfortable – a dark wood bar and wall paneling giving it the appearance of colonial opulence – whilst a bank of screens beams in test and one-day matches from across the cricketing world. But the fun doesn’t stop at stumps: Cricketer’s boasts an aurally and aesthetically pleasing triumvirate of female Russian singers, strapped with guitars and a keyboard, and looking not unlike something from a Robert Palmer video. Now you wouldn’t get that down the Oval.
Cricketer’s, Ramada Continental , Abu Hail, Deira (04 266 2666)
It’s a quiet midweek night around town but Indian club Daawat is a heady concoction of noise, punters, dancing girls and… did we mention the noise? The club offers highly entertaining dance routines on stage, is filled with helpful staff and attracts a friendly clientele. But the music pumping out of the speakers and around the room is possibly the single most ear-pummeling experience we have ever been through. Still, if you can ignore the tinnitus-provoking volume levels, you will enjoy the colourful displays of the dancers and good-natured ambience. We will remember Daawat for a long time, even if it’s only for the persistent buzzing that remained in our ears for days afterwards. Daawat, Highland Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 393 9773)
Downtown Sports Bar
Ah, the flickering neon of the Downtown Sports Bar. Located to the side of the President Hotel, it’s a back street dive bar that offers a plethora of sporting fun. There’s a pool table, a darts board, poker machines (if you stretch the definition of what precisely constitutes a sport) and, rather bizarrely, a ‘lucky grab’ machine replete with garishly coloured toys. Considering its title, however, it’s odd that the many TVs on display offer daytime American sitcoms instead of that night’s football. But the drinks are cheap and the staff are very friendly, occasionally proffering the odd plate of freshly chopped carrots.
Downtown Sports Bar, President Hotel, Karama (04 334 6565)
They’ve put a lot of effort into The Garage. While most bars are content with sticking in sanitised, Ikea-esque furniture and charging the earth, The Garage has taken a wholly different approach – filling its expansive interior full of decommissioned vintage cars, sawing their roofs off and replacing the big leather seats with tables and chairs. Once you are safely ensconced, you can then choose a Dhs25 cocktail from their special menu, any one of which will numb your face after a couple of sips. But that’s no bad thing. As well as the odd seating, The Garage has a lively, mixed dance floor full of Arabs and Filipinos busting a move to commercial house and hip hop. The place is full every night of the week, which makes you wonder: don’t all these people have jobs to go to in the morning?
The Garage, Ramee International Hotel, Deira (04 224 0222)
It might be a Tuesday night but Kuya, arguably the best Filipino nightspot in town, is packed. ‘Oh, this is a quiet night,’ one of the bar girls informs us, ‘you can’t get in after 10pm on a Thursday.’ Inside, the club looks a bit like a student bar, with a large dance floor, low lighting, stage and elevated pool table to one side. It’s a curious quirk of Filipino clubbing that nobody dances to the live band, preferring to rush the floor the moment the DJ takes to the decks and Kuya is no different, creating a kind of dancefloor shuttle run. While most of the city’s superclubs are dogged by an air of detached snobbery, the mood at Kuya is of triumphant jubilation making it one of the finest clubs both on and off the beaten track.
Kuya Disco, Nihal Hotel, Deira (04 295 7666)
Dubai Palm Hotel
There’s understated and then there’s the Lounge Bar at the Dubai Palm Hotel. The hotel is a fairly low-brow affair but to the right of the lobby you’ll see a small blue paper sign with ‘Lounge Bar’ scrawled on it in felt tip above a set of swing doors. Inside it’s dark, laidback, and remarkably inexpensive. Bottled beers cost a paltry Dhs10 each, making it one of the cheapest bars in the city. And despite its less-than-up market location, the Lounge Bar has a quality pool table, MTV-approved rock music and waitresses delivering bowls of popcorn to your table at regular intervals. Understated it may be, but the Lounge Bar is without doubt one of the best places in Dubai to kick off your alternative night on the tiles.
Lounge Bar, Dubai Palm Hotel, Deira (04 271 0021)
Blessed – yes, blessed – with two shabby-but-rather-excellent bars, the President Hotel can consider Maharlika the jewel in its rather decrepit crown. Located at the top of the building, it’s essentially a dark and dirty nightclub spectacularly lit up by their band, Night and Gale. With the gruff spirit of Eddie Vedder on vocals and five lascivious, axe-wielding female backing singers, they play rambunctious selections of soft rock hits that leave the crowd clap happy and even open-mouthed. Although the crowd-wide jaw-dropping might have more to do with the killer combination of short skirts, low tops and synchronized head banging that accompany every tune.
Maharlika, President Hotel, Karama (04 334 6565)
Sea View Hotel
The Marine Club
The Sea View Hotel is full of dubious charms. Not least because the sea view actually refers to the giant industrial complex that is Port Rashid across the street. Finding the aquatic-themed club is also a top quality backstreet bar experience. The bar is located out through the back of the lobby, through the service area and kitchens, and then up the fire escape and in through another back door. If you can live with the fact every song from the talented Filipino band will be an ’80s MOR anthem, and ignore the attentions of certain sections of the clientele, you can enjoy the experience for what it is – unpretentious, shabbily-dressed fun.
The Marine Club, Sea View Hotel, Mina Road (04 355 8080).
The Moulin Rouge isn’t the place to go for a quiet drink and a bowl of salty nuts. However, if you like elaborate stage shows, Russian dancing and top drawer cover bands, this is the place to come. The band play a pleasingly eclectic mix of songs (including a great version of the Beatles’ ‘Something’ for all you music snobs), which is rather fun, if sedate. But when the band goes stage right for a smoke and a Coke, the fun really starts. First we have a pair of Kate Bush lookalikes doing gravity defying gymnastics before a dark haired belly dancer sashays across the stage. But it’s the whirling Mongolian dancer, wearing traditional dress and spinning around faster than a Tasmanian devil on tartrazine, who has us all standing up and clapping manically to the beat. And feeling a bit foolish for doing so afterwards.
Moulin Rouge, Broadway Hotel, Deira (04 221 7111)
York International Hotel
The York International Hotel might have a reputation for its – how do we describe it – ‘bustling’ atmosphere, where you have to answer the opening line, ‘where are you from?’ every three and a half seconds. But don’t let that put you off the downstairs Filipino bar. Sitting watching the energetic rock band do sterling impressions of Guns N’ Roses is a hassle- (and irony-) free experience, during which you can savour your hidden love for forgotten ’70s and ’80s rock bands, and marvel at the fact that twenty other nationalities appear to be doing the same thing.
Music Room, York International Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 355 5500)
Al Khaleej Holiday Suites
You can’t fault the enthusiasm of Rasputin’s chief entertainer. While bantering with guests and playing requests for the ‘VIP customers’ who hog the reserved seats with the best view, he plays saxophonic renditions of jazz staples with boundless enthusiasm. He also does the best Bob Marley impression this side of the Kremlin. But the entertainment highlight involves a troupe of female dancers clad in revealing black, pink and white outfits whose suggestive waddling across the stage recalls the March of the Penguins, albeit with better cleavage. The menu takes in all the Lebanese basics, and rather worryingly, ‘beef legs’ – you should perhaps eat elsewhere – while most the drinks are a budget-busting Dhs30. But it’s worth it for the oddly fulfilling cabaret.
Rasputin Nightclub, Al Khaleej Holiday Suites, Deira (04 227 6565)
Backstreet bars are a deceptive beast. Outside, the Ratsky threatened to live up to its name. Entering via a litter and furniture-strewn alleyway, first impressions were not great. Inside however, it’s a beauty. There’s a wellstocked and highly accommodating tincovered bar and the disco balls glitter like almost-real gold. The house band can’t touch the best in town, but they do receive major ’80s kudos for rediscovering the Fisher Price keyboard guitar. Add a host of band members willing to demonstrate just how athletically supple they are, and you have a very good budget bet.
Ratsky, Karama Hotel, Karama (04 335 8732)
Royal Falcon Hotel
With completely blacked-out windows and a plant pot artfully placed by the entrance so as to conceal its one-star rating, the Royal Falcon Hotel is low-brow manna from heaven. And the Surtal Indian bar does not disappoint us. The house band thunder through songs that are one part Bollywood, one part progrock, and the keyboard player in particular seems to labour under the impression that he is, in fact, Jean Michael Jarre as he struts his stuff under the smoke and lights. It’s impressive stuff matched only by the array of carrot sticks accompanying the cans of modestly-priced beer and the attractive dancing girls, who come out to shake their booty periodically.
Surtal, Royal Falcon Hotel, Deira (04 273 2222)