Time Out bravely reviews the new bars that have opened this week
Time Out Dubai staff
Alpha: Those that have been in Dubai for more than a year, will already know – either through first-hand, sweaty knowledge or fabled word of mouth – about the joys of iBO. For those not lucky enough to see what was the city’s best club in action, you could do far worse than turn to Alpha for your musical salvation. Set in the remains of a Greek restaurant, Alpha is an imposing, marble-floored, domed room with fir-tree thick colonnades, impressive faux Greek statues, a small rooftop terrace and a bar so large that long queues should never be a problem.
It also possesses the most spine-tingling, chest-wobbling soundsystem in the city, and the musical muscle to match. Thursday nights are given over to Mr Mr and his brand of deep, melodic house, while Tuesdays will host utterly eclectic DJs and the best in live music. But it’s not just a dancing venue: Fridays revolve around a late brunch concept that starts at 4pm, with hip hop, soul, and house accompaniment. While it might not have iBO’s spit ’n’ sawdust appeal – with lurid furniture and swish lighting, Alpha is never going to be a warehouse dive – it looks to have the best musical policy in the city. Something for which all music fans – iBO aware or not – can be grateful.
I2: In a city that often favours the mainstream when it comes to drinking options, I2 makes an unexpectedly offbeat change. The unashamedly prosaic surroundings of the lobby at The Metropolitan may not look like a portal to anywhere in the remotest bit interesting, but take a swift about turn when you hit the reception desk, duck downstairs through a badly marked entrance and you’ll soon find yourself in altogether more eccentric venue. The succession of rubbish thrillers that dominate the schedules at Dubai’s multiplexes may not suggest a city-wide affinity with the work of David Lynch, but the oeuvre of the famously twisted director seems to have been a major influence on the décor here.
Deep red walls, white leather chairs and sofas, a low ceiling and miniature dimensions combine to imbibe the place with a surreally intimate atmosphere – think Alice Through The Looking Glass with added alcopops. The looped songs by Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey and other mainstream bores take an edge off the aura somewhat, but if you can tune out the tunes, this weird new kid on the block will likely work its beguiling charms on you.
New Asia Bar: If the idea of spending Dhs35 for a bottle of water – that fancy Norwegian Voss water, no less – doesn’t raise an eyebrow, then congratulations: you’re a perfect fit for New Asia Bar, situated in Raffles hotel, at the very peak of the Wafi pyramid. And you’ll be drinking in style, what with the plush furniture, moody lighting and rather spectacular views.
Oh – and the whopping great big statue head behind the bar, which looks like it fell off the back of a lorry on the way back from the new Indiana Jones movie. The venue’s exclusivity is emphasised by its ‘hotel guests and couples only’ door policy, which is present all the time, but doesn’t kick in fully until the weekends to keep out the riff-raff and lairy types (and thus most of Time Out).
This also means that the average age of the clientele is skewed higher than in many places in Dubai, leading to an atmosphere more suited to chatting and chilling than busting a move on the dance floor. It’s also very quiet; we got there at about 11pm and were easily outnumbered by the admittedly helpful staff. People started filtering in properly towards 12midnight. But at least it let us have the fancy, 60s-style spherical swinging chairs all to ourselves.
One On One: The Monarch boasts one of the most prestigious addresses in Dubai: Number One Sheikh Zayed Road. It’s a shame, then, that its signature bar, One On One, doesn’t quite match the austere address. An L-shaped bar decked out in light woods and with subtle lighting, it looks little more than an extension of the hotel lobby. Admittedly, the lobby is a grand and sumptuous space, but that’s hardly the point when you’re looking for a place to relax.
But if you’re looking for a pre- or post-prandial refresher then you’ve come to the right place. Boasting an impressive drinks menu and with knowledgeable and ever-friendly staff always on hand, you’ll never be left with a dry throat or an unanswered question.
Oeno: Wine bars often get a bad name, but if you want to get the best bottles in Dubai they’re your best bet by far. This is especially true at Oeno, which has a fantastic selection or grapes, from vintage champagnes to outstanding sweet sauternes. There are two private rooms, one for wine tasting and one for sampling cheese, and the latter’s menu is wonderfully well-stocked.
Cheese and wine are surprisingly difficult to match well, but the sommeliers here will set you straight, and with additional tasting elements (from quince to honey truffle oil) it’s the best place to eat some of the finest cheese in the city – and possibly the whole of the Middle East. The wine measures sometime seem a little on the small side, but this isn’t the kind of place where you just down cheap plonk. Along with a jazz-tastic live band, this is one bar to savour.
Senyar: Senyar, also at the newly-opened Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, should be a bar that works. Its clean, white, two-tiered space is stylish (red accent furniture, exotic vodka bottles sunk into an illuminated white wall, the requisite outside terrace) and, on the night we visited, was buzzing with an excitable after-work crowd. The list of cocktails is extensive and imaginative; there are a fair range of (expensive) wines and, inbetween the usual draught beer suspects, a few surprises like the winningly tasty Weiss beer.
But something is missing. It doesn’t help that, for all its careful design, there’s an indefinable sense of ‘hotel lobby’ about the space. Or that the live music was just another interchangeable man-and-guitar covers ‘band’. There was no food available on the night we visited, adding a side-order of rumbling-tummed dissatisfaction where the tapas selection should have been. But even that taking that into account, we still weren’t won over. Don’t visit on an empty stomach.
Soluna at Leyali Tent: Here’s an odd one: six nights a week the voluminous Leyali Tent hosts an Arabian restaurant, but each Saturday it is transformed into Soluna, a beach-side bar that attracts a mixture of pretty, rich types and intrigued tourists. The atmosphere is generally relaxed, with the bar being more of a hang-out-and-chat joint than a dancing venue – and with the sea literally a stone’s throw away and the sun setting behind the nearby Burj Al Arab, it’s hard to imagine a nicer place to just chill out.
The bars have a reasonable selection of spirits, but be prepared to wait as the bar staff can be a little overworked at times. Of course, alfresco bars have trouble during Dubai’s summer heat, so when the weather gets to be too much, the entire bar will move into the air-conditioned tent. However, whether or not this will rob the venue of some of its charm remains to be seen.
Trader Vic’s Mai-Tai Lounge: Trader Vic’s has carved out a niche for itself in Dubai; there’s a branch at the Madinat and another over at the Crowne Plaza, while the world’s second Mai-Tai Lounge – an extension of the Trader Vic’s brand – has just opened its doors in Dubai Marina. The new Tiki bar, located on the first floor of the Al Fattan Oasis Beach Towers, is bigger and brighter than its siblings, but there’s still nothing authentic about it in the slightest. Still the great tasting cocktails will no doubt delight drinkers.
The signature Mai Tai, invented by Victor Bergeron (the brains behind the Tiki bar chain), is always a wise choice, as is the rum rich Samoan Fog Cutter. To eat, there are some edible – if overpriced – Asian bar snacks and, later on in the evening, all eyes will be drawn to the excellent Cuban band performing sassy salsa sounds on stage. All told, Mai Tai is a great place to go for a few lively drinks, if not a quiet intimate chat. Arguably, the only downside is the prices. See how high that ceiling is? Chances are you’ll be presented with a bill to match.