We select 40 bars and clubs worth checking out after a night at the Dubai races
Dubai’s biggest social event has been another full year in the making, and with all those preparatory hours spent in painfully chic outlets, you’re not about to let the big day slip away without a whimper. Don’t fret. The city’s diverse nightlife scene is awash with plush wine bars, neon-lit clubs and no-frills expat hang-outs; whatever your poison, somebody somewhere is pushing it.
So when the thrill of the final race is ebbing, and crowds start milling around expectantly, grab your friends and family and head into town. All that remains is to assess their entertainment needs. Are you still at your fine and dandiest, dressed to the nines in the immaculate garb you started the day in and looking for a venue that’s every bit as elegant? Or perhaps it’s all been a bit much, and you’re in need of some quiet caffeine-induced conversation before calling it a night?
If none of the above, we’re assuming that your top hat was trampled underfoot hours ago – probably before you finished your pre-race sharpeners at The Irish Village. Your bubbly is long gone, your powers of speech are on the wane, and it’s time to take the party to a raucous new level. Whatever your state – financial, mental or otherwise – Time Out identifies the city’s best bars and clubs to keep this thoroughbred day at the races alive and kicking into the night.
Looking for somewhere to unwind as tasteful as your attire? Then head to one of the city’s more sophisticated venues.
360°: Situated at the end of its own pier, and nest-led under the shadow of the Burj Al Arab, 360° has panoramic views of Dubai’s coastline. With comfy sofas, excellent shishas and a decent cocktail list, the more refined guests are amply catered for.
The Agency: Wine lovers will find this ground floor hideaway in Jumeirah Emirates Towers and its sister branch in Souk Madinat very much to their liking. Here affluent, well-heeled professionals gathered in groups sample the fruits of one of the city’s finest wine lists.
Après: Après is a huge ski lodge-meets-Ikea-meets-DJ bar that manages to find an unlikely compromise between alpine lodge and contemporary nightspot. Stocked with every conceivable drink under the sun, the staff claim to be able to make a cocktail for anyone. And after a day of partying, the sight of skiiers falling over at Ski Dubai will be that much more amusing.
Bar 44: Housed on the 44th floor – therefore sporting excellent views of Dubai Marina – this is one of the most expensive bars in the city. Expect candlelight, the tinkling of an in-house pianist, fine furnishings and a one hell of a bill.
Buddha Bar: Despite the puzzling relationship – we doubt Buddha would have approved of the marriage of alcohol and chill-out music – the Buddha Bar is a chic and slightly pretentious bar-cum-restaurant that differs little from other branches around the world, but does offer good Thai food and cocktails, with a fashionable, moody setting and a pumping soundtrack.
Cin Cin: Curved around an enormous central pillar, this horseshoe-shaped wine-pusher features a floor to ceiling wine racks housing over 250 different varieties, while the sporadic use of lighting, languid soundtrack and adjoining cigar bar all impress. A bar for grown-ups with prices to match.
The Crossroads Bar: This bar is actually responsible for Dubai’s first signature drink (no, we don’t mean the bullfrog). A take on the classic gin-infused Singapore Sling, the Dubai Sling is a sharp, crisp cocktail served over Titanic mounds of ice and contains, among other things, chilli and sage-infused liqueur and fig jam. And with panoramic views of Dubai’s skyline outside, this will make a sophisticated end to your day.
Ginseng: A cosy Asian-themed venue that can’t quite work out whether it’s a bar, a restaurant or a nightclub. Ginseng has a large array of fierce cocktails, and while it’s stylish, it’s not as pretentious as many similar bars in the city. Once inside you’ll be privy to one of the most eclectic record boxes in town, with chill-out mixes weaved throughout the week.
Koubba: This is typically first pick for upscale media soirees (Raquel Welch launched her MAC cosmetics range there). While the cavernous interior is all dark wood and Arabic lanterns, the grand balcony makes another superb Burj look-out. Even if fancy-schmancy venues aren’t your bag, it’s worth a visit just for the bizarre cocktail list, which among other surprises includes camel’s milk as one of the many ingredients.
Left Bank: Neon lighting, low seating and minimalist decor is the order of the day here. Left Bank’s All Bar One-esque interior won’t be to every scenesters taste, but the waterside terrace is well worth a visit. This DJ bar attracts a trendy crowd and makes for a good end to the evening, especially if you’re after a late dinner.
Oscar’s Vine Society: Offering a wide range of wines – all of which come with their own descriptions – Oscar’s cave-esque interior is the nearest you’ll get to an authentic wine cellar in the city. Factor in the hearty food and the sweat-inducing cheese board and you have a winner.
Rooftop Terrace: A sedate sipping station, The Rooftop remains one of the most magnificent drinking venues in the city. The views, which take in the serene Gulf and the blaze of Palm Island, can’t be beaten, and the soundtrack of cryogenically-chilled beats peppered with the odd classic is well judged. While dancing does occasionally break out, it’s more likely that the crowd will be ogling the star-filled skyline from the comfort of the Arabian-themed seating. Highly recommended.
QD’s Bar: Nestled in the grounds of the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, QD’s is a must-visit during the winter months. A classy open-air affair, this wood-decked bar offers superb views across the Creek, a wood-burning pizza oven and all the shisha you can smoke. The regular DJ can be a bit hit-and-miss, but if you can block out his musical missteps, watching the sun crash down beyond the Creek with a cocktail in your hand is almost as good as it gets.
Sho Cho: With a gorgeous terrace overlooking the Gulf and Manga movies projected onto the fish tank-studded walls, Sho Cho is a super-hip Japanese bar with an anime twist. Sophisticated, classy and dead trendy, this is where the beautiful people go to play, pose and look pretty – indeed, you will not see an ounce of spare body fat in the place. Saturday night shouldn’t be too busy, but phone ahead for reservations, wear proper shoes and arrive in couples, as the door policy is quite strict.
The Terrace: Despite being labelled a vodka bar, The Terrace’s selection of the clear stuff isn’t as extensive as you might have hoped, with about a dozen or so mainly Russian or Polish brews on offer, still they’re served up in style. Their large beer and wine list, not to mention the tasty and eminently reasonable menu, more than makes up for the small number of vodkas available. The main draw is the Creek location.
Vu’s Bar: Laid-back elegance at premium prices from this swanky 51st-floor bar, where high-vaulted ceilings and impeccable good looks open on to one of the finest views in Dubai. Head up early on and watch the sun go down and the lights go up across the city, made all the sweeter thanks to the bar’s mouth-watering cocktail list. Make sure you’re still wearing a collar, no jeans and shoes, or the fashion police will throw you out.
With the thrill of the races pumping through your veins, perhaps you need something more upbeat. An lively pub or bar perhaps?
Aussie Legends: Set on the ground floor of Rydges Plaza hotel, the ever-popular Aussie Legends is, as the name implies, a ‘down under’ theme bar with a small dance floor and a well-used pool table. Antipodean tipples abound, including bottles of Crown lager and, when supplies allow, the joy that is Victoria Bitter. Big-screen sporting action draws in an impressively large crowd.
Barasti: A cracking three-storey outdoor venue that sits on its own platform above the Mina’s private beach and expands around the hotel pool. As you’d expect from a pool bar, dress is casual – so you may stand out a little in race attire. Alongside the usual liquid treats, the bar does a nice sideline in shisha pipes and offers the perfect setting to puff while overlooking the sea. Despite being set in one of the more touristy locations, Barasti still generates a cheery local ambience, with live entertainment on Saturday evenings.
Biggles: Despite its crimes against interior design, Biggles is a jovial sort of place popular with older expats and football fans and, as such, is a good call for a (relatively) cheap and cheerful pint.
Boston Bar: Based on the bar in Cheers, this unpretentious expat boozer can get very lively during football matches. It’s typically full of Brits, but occasionally attracts other nationalities. The food is hit and miss.
Double Decker: As British as launching complaint after complaint about the weather while bemoaning the lack of buses, Double Decker is unashamedly patriotic. From the grandiose coats of armour adorning the walls to the hordes of sunburnt Brits parading around, it’s a home away from home for the expat crowd. It might not have the most adventurous atmosphere, but it’s frequently packed.
Dubliners: An intimate Irish bar serving decent pub grub and some of the biggest pies in town, Dubliners is a jovial place for a pint. The decor incorporates dark wood, the obligatory Guinness posters and the back end of a truck at the expense of windows, alongside acres of Celtic paraphernalia. It’s a good bet for televised sports and its proximity to the airport makes it perfect if you’ve only got a few hours in town and aren’t feeling adventurous.
The Irish Village: A Dubai institution, The Irish Village – or ‘IV’ as it’s colloquially known – is situated along the exterior of Dubai Tennis Stadium and is frequently packed with residents and tourists alike. The major draw during winter months is the fantastic outside terrace that hugs a quaint duck pond, yet the vast assortment of draught beers available – including old country favourites, Guinness and Kilkenny, keep people flooding in all year round. An absolute must.
Fibber Magee’s: Fibber McGee’s is a bit of a rarity in Dubai: it’s one of the very few independent pubs in the city. About as Irish as Tony Cascarino, it is still a good bet for some hearty pub grub and a jar of the black stuff. A firm policy of showing the big Premier League football games helps draw a reliable expat crowd.
Long’s Bar: The main claim to fame of this hotel basement bar is that it has, well, the Middle East’s longest bar. Unfortunately this also means that there’s hardly any space for the punter to relax in, despite the separate restaurant area. During daylight hours, the bar tends to be littered with elderly sun-shunners drawn to the big-screen televisions. In the evening, the average age drops to the early 30s looking for some lively banter.
Nezesaussi: Despite having a name that can never be pronounced the same way twice (it’s actually a ‘clever’ amalgamation of ‘New Zealand, South Africa and Australia’), this sports grill is doing a mean trade in hefty steaks, ice cold beers and busy sports screens over in the ‘new’ Old Town Burj Dubai complex. If you’re looking for somewhere with a bit of a buzz to catch the next big game, you can’t opt for much better than... whatever it’s called.
Scarlett’s: Another of Dubai’s three-in-one specials, Scarlett’s is a popular bar/restaurant/nightclub with a Dixieland theme. It has become a bit of a Dubai institution with its young, mostly affluent and invariably well-dressed crowd. Its Tuesday ladies’ night continues to be particularly popular.
Trader Vic’s: Trader Vic’s has a cocktail list longer than a Robert Altman movie, and each comes clad in fruit, with straws and the occasional umbrella. Just remember to visit the bank, as this place can take on the biggest of wallets and win.
Waxy O’Conner’s: Waxy’s is an Irish theme bar, which has become unjustifiably popular with airline cabin crew and old soaks. The reason for the sun-starved pint pit’s success is simple: the proprietors have lined up a deluge of deals to entice in the budget-conscious. The biggest bargain is the Friday funky brunch: just Dhs65 will get you a full Irish breakfast, five drink tokens and a buffet carvery. This lends itself to a rather charged atmosphere as the day wears on, but the craic is very good indeed.
So the racing was just a warm-up? Not too bothered about tomorrow, or work? Then try one of the city’s liveliest venues.
The Apartment: Two-roomed club that opened at the back-end of 2005, The Apartment is still popular thanks to its forward-thinking musical mandate and lavish lounge. It’s a place to grab a cocktail, listen to the dance music and take in the eye candy. The doormen can be a little strict, but arrive with a girl in your group and you should be fine.
Boudoir: This swanky wannabe Parisian club ranks as one of the most exclusive venues in the city. Boudoir attracts a predominantly Lebanese crowd, and if you want to get past the door staff you should be dressed to impress and preferably in a couple.
Chi @ The Lodge Club: A plush, spacious four-roomed venue, the gargantuan garden area of Chi is popular during winter months, with an adventurous booking policy entertaining the thousand or so clubbers. Indoors, meanwhile, there’s an all white room that hosts hip hop, funk and soul. Make sure you get down early as the queues can be horrendous.
Harry Ghatto’s: Dubaians can be split into two camps: those who love karaoke and those who hate it, but secretly wish they were up on stage crooning ‘Suspicious Minds’. If you have accepted your inner diva, then Harry Ghatto’s is the best place in Dubai to belt out a few classics. Nestled in the back room of a sushi restaurant, the can’t-swing-a-cat cosiness and twin microphone set-up inspires a brothers-in-song ambience. Dutch courage comes courtesy of extremely expensive imported Japanese beers and sake, but don’t worry if you’re still a little nervous – the staff are always on hand to show you how it’s done.
JamBase: One of the best live music venues in this scene-starved city, JamBase is a venue that prizes style as highly as substance. The furniture is artfully angular and the decor art deco chic. Thankfully, JamBase has the mouth to back up its immaculately-cut trousers, with a rather good house band.
Jimmy Dix: No frills, no pretension and no need to dress up, Jimmy Dix attracts an up-for-it throng. The music is generally loud dance sounds, but as it’s one of few grungier places in town it attracts a big crowd..
Plan B: The latest incarnation of this Wafi club opened last October. In the past it has been known as the Planetarium and Blush, while these days its main aim is to offer funky, accesible music and great deals – there’s a happy hour ever night, and all day on Saturday, which could make it a hotspot for some post-race antics. There’s a capacity for 350 people in the club section downstairs, and another 90 in the separate sushi and champagne lounge.
Rock Bottom Café: Although it’s officially a bar and restaurant rather than a club, Rock Bottom only really comes alive as other bars kick out. Little more than a lowbrow cattle market, RBC still pulls in an impressive crowd with its proven blend of bullfrogs combined with a resident DJ and live band, who pump out the pleasers until closing time. There’s an in-house shwarma joint for dancers with the munchies.
Rockwell Café: Formerly Henry J Beans, the entrance is still off to the right of the Capitol Hotel (complete with its own doorman), and the space inside is still gigantic – if oddly laid out. But the punters still nod to the live band, as they cover Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder and hip hop and pop tracks.
Submarine: Bur Dubai’s flashiest five-star hotel, the Dhow Palace, is swimming the nautical theme with its stylish new club, Submarine. With an impressive ‘boutique’ interior, this particular underwater vessel has started to attract DJs from Lush Radio. They also have near eye-damaging laser shows, fireman-frightening smoke machines and, rather astoundingly for a basement venue, a 25ft retractable roof to show off the night sky.
Zinc: A Sheikh Zayed Road basement venue popular with the hordes of flight crew, Zinc has a large central bar, separate dining area, resident DJs and an interesting bunny logo. The decor is metallic chic, but the general atmosphere is more down-to-earth than other club venues around town. Zinc’s residents supply a soundtrack of mainstream chart hits with the occasional inoffensive dance track thrown in, and manages to attract a decent crowd every night of the week.