Classic Americana venue bridges gap between Brit pub and snooty lounge bar 1 Reviews
The thirst for all things retro never really took off in Dubai. For countless years now, trendsetting Western cities have fallen for the intoxicating mythology of the past. But while pretty young things in ‘declining Europe’ and the USA have been donning retro dresses older than their mothers and jigging to ’50s rockabilly that makes Elvis sound experimental, Dubai has kept its eyes firmly on the future. The gleaming, sanitised, high-rise future: why drink from a chipped tea cup in an underground hovel when you could be cradling an elaborate multicoloured concoction while floating above the tallest cityscape in the world?
Now, however, Dubai’s retro scene has been significantly bolstered with Speakeasy. For their debut nightlife venture, the managers at the new Ramada Plaza Jumeirah Beach have leapt, like top-hat-toting bank robbers, onto the retro railway wagon, looking to classic ’20s Americana as their inspiration – an era (and image) that has captivated the imagination for decades. It’s undeniable that we want most what we can’t have, which may explain the world’s enduring fascination with the era of Prohibition (or maybe it’s the idea of Al Capone larking about with a Tommy gun).
It’s an interesting coincidence that this bar’s soft launch fell on July 19. But we can’t fault the hotel’s timing: the ’20s are in this year. Fashion glossy Vogue ran a feature on ‘Prohibition chic’ back in March; the third season of hit ’20s Prohibition drama Boardwalk Empire debuts in the US next month; and this winter sees Baz Lurhman’s cinematic reinterpretation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic, The Great Gatsby.
Accessible through a car park round the back of JBR, Speakeasy couldn’t be better placed – both geographically and conceptually. While still in ‘soft-launch’ phase, the bar was already picking up a low-key promise during a handful of our summer visits. The retro feel is construed in subtle ways: dark wood panelling, candles, waiters in black waistcoats. The result is something that lies between Dubai’s two typical poles – marginally more classy and interesting than a sports bar or Brit-pub, but far more relaxed than a lounge bar.
In truth, it’s closer to the former than the latter – and we think the twee quirk factor could be inched up a tad, or there’s a very real danger this could descend into another lads’ hangout. Instead of generic rock/pop, why not go all the way and spin some old swing? Why stop at waistcoats? Give staff top hats and add a bit of ceremony. And some more vintage furnishings wouldn’t go amiss.
All this and more could be on the cards – there’s talk of hanging classic gangster portraits on the wall (yes, Capone), while a live acoustic duo will play at weekends from September 20. For now, though, it’s simply a relief to find a new hangout in the heart of ‘new Dubai’ that’s neither Brit- nor Irish-focused, nor another sports bar.By Rob Garratt
Time Out Dubai,
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