Hollywood ping pong, theatre antics and more top new nightpots
With a wave of huge international nightlife brands opening in Dubai right now, Rob Garratt goes behind the scenes to give you inside info on the new venues
Maybe it’s a seasonal thing. Throughout spring we’ve seen Dubai’s nightlife scene enter a period of marked transformation, as the emirate is gifted an influx of venue openings. A lot of the hype is focused on a handful of new international brands, which are gearing up to compete with the city’s most established venues. Less than a month ago was the grand opening of The Act, the notorious Las Vegas export that has turned out to be every bit as risqué as we’d predicted. Next week, on Wednesday May 1, we’re looking forward to welcoming Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon to town to launch ping pong-themed nightclub SPiN, while a week or so later we’re expecting to see Amsterdam’s renowned Supperclub introduced in the emirate.
Aside from these headline-grabbers, there has also been a spate of new venues of all shapes and sizes, from chilled Latino hangouts to intimate grape bars and underground nightclubs. To help you keep on top of what’s hot, we’ve rounded up all these venues – and challenge you to try every one.
The city’s top new clubs The Act: When it was announced that Simon Hammerstein’s Las Vegas export would be opening in Dubai, there was just one word on everyone’s lips: how? How would the club’s extroverted theatrics and raunchy stage shows – like those found in his other notorious venue, London’s headline-grabber The Box – translate to more conservative Dubai? We were promised that the venue would push boundaries, and just weeks after opening it certainly has, with risqué stage shows that serve up a simmering, brave mix of burlesque, aerial artistry and cabaret. We’re talking a paraplegic woman performing Cirque du Soleil-style stunts, a Russell Brand lookalike murdering Iggy Pop and an Alice in Wonderland-esque giant rabbit.
Boasting the performance aspect of MusicHall, the exhibitionism of Cirque du Soir and the buzz of a new dancefloor you might find somewhere like VIP Room, The Act is a microcosm of Dubai’s current nightlife trends – and an entirely unique venue unlike anything else in the emirate. Open Thu 9.30pm-3am. Shangri-La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (056 811 9900).
The Q Underground: This isn’t technically a club: it’s actually an empty basement space beneath sports bar The Q. And strictly speaking, it’s not new: the space has always been there, but aside from the odd private event, it hasn’t been used in years. Yet the sudden birth of a number of edgy underground nights has seen this barren, nondescript venue reborn as one of Dubai’s hottest new clubs.
Leading the revival is weekly underground house and electro night Analog Room. ‘It’s not a nightclub, it’s not a venue at all – it’s a basement,’ says the night’s founder Siamak Amidi of the 800-capacity space. His night has started a craze – psytrance night Hypnotique recently launched at the venue, while drum’n’bass dons audiOasis are preparing to relaunch there on Friday May 10. ‘This venue has recently taken on a life of its own,’ said audiOasis founder Alec Harden. ‘The low ceiling, sweaty atmosphere, cheap drinks and black walls are perfect for that grimy underground vibe.’ Analog Room takes place every Thursday, 10pm-3am, entry Dhs75 (ladies free before midnight). audiOasis relaunches on Friday May 10, 10pm-3am, entry Dhs50. Holiday Inn Al Barsha (04 323 4333).
SPiN Dubai: What’s that, you say? A venue that combines a table-tennis sports suite with an exclusive nightclub, launched by a Hollywood star? As we went to press we were eagerly waiting to get inside Susan Sarandon’s bizarre new ping-pong club, SPiN, set to open on Wednesday May 1.
It may sound like the epic indulgences of an Academy Award-winning actress facing the twilight of her 60s, but renowned table-tennis fan Sarandon’s club has proved a massive hit since opening in New York in 2009, attracting celebrity guests including Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber. The actress and her business partners have since expanded to launch the brand in Milwaukee, Toronto and Los Angeles. Leaving America for the first time, the Dubai venue will host a total of 11 ‘designer’ ping-pong tables, three bars, a lounge, dancefloor and terrace, all spread across a 1,100 sq m venue in Wafi. ‘SPiN Dubai will be the swankiest ping-pong lounge and nightclub in the world,’ says Sarandon. We’re not sure there’s much competition for that title, but the hype right now is monumental. Open to the public from Thursday May 2; then open daily 6pm-3am. Wafi (04 370 7707).
Supperclub: We’ve heard the phrase ‘Dubai’s most expensive nightclub’ bandied around ahead of Supperclub’s launch, a statement that shouldn’t be taken lightly amid the emirate’s VVVIP nightlife culture. While it was meant to open in March, we’ve now been told to expect the Amsterdam export to arrive on the Palm any day now. However, visitors to the Dutch original, or its sister venues in Istanbul, San Francisco, Alacati in Turkey, Los Angeles and London, might be in for a few surprises.
‘It’s inspired by those venues,’ a source told us, ‘but it’s really taking on the Dubai scene – culturally sensitive but pushing boundaries.’ One thing it is expected to have in common with those venues, we’re told, is a high turnover of celebrity guests, with stars and guest DJs expected to be flown in on a regular basis. Standing side by side with MusicHall at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, it will undoubtedly be another major addition to the emirate’s nightlife scene. Scheduled to open in early May. Jumeirah Zabeey Saray, www.supperclubdubai.com.
Six more hot new venues District Lounge: It may be years old, but it qualifies as one of the city’s hottest new venues – because it’s almost certainly the first time you’ll be able to visit. Formerly the private reserve of The Capital Club’s elite, after a Friday-nights-only public opening at the end of last year, the recent launch of public post-work hangout Thursday Grooves has effectively seen the birth of a new venue that is attracting an increasing buzz with the DIFC crowd. At present there’s no reported plans to open more nights, but we wouldn’t object. Open Thu 6pm-2am; Fri 10pm-3am. Building 3, DIFC (050 880 2285).
Maya Lounge: While celebrity chef Richard Sandoval’s Maya Modern Mexican Kitchen has existed in Dubai for several years, the venue’s standalone bar has only been thrust onto the scene as a nightlife venue of note after a relaunch earlier this year. There’s a pleasant ground-floor lounge terrace, but for us its all about the upstairs deck, which manages to feel intimate without being cramped. Check out the vibe on the lively new ladies’ night, Senorita Sundays (7pm-11pm), where the Latino house grooves take on an even livelier flair. Open daily 7pm-2am. Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa (04 399 5555).
No.5 Terrace: The Ritz-Carlton’s No.5 Lounge & Bar is, in truth, a pretty forgettable affair – more of a colonial gentleman’s lounge than a trendy bar. But the No.5 name has been given a thorough facelift with the launch of this new, standalone terrace bar. Sitting in the centre of a large courtyard, there’s a great sense of space and exclusivity staring up at DIFC’s twinkly, angular peaks. Best of all are the tunes, with resident DJs spinning lounge beats, funk, soul and jazz, while things are livelier on Wednesday’s ladies’ night (8pm-10pm), with Latin and Brazilian beats. Open daily 6pm-3am. The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC (04 372 2323).
Salamar: Next door to Maya is another trendy and chilled Latino hangout which takes its influence from a different central American hotspot: Cuba. It’s effortlessly relaxing – nestle on the bright wicker chairs with a Havana in one hand and a dark drink in the other, and it almost feels as though you’re abroad: think trilbies and Bermuda shorts. The terrace is kept bopping with decent grooves, and we’ve found the venue is picking up a buzz as a sundowner spot on Saturdays. Open daily 4.30pm-2am. Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa, Dubai Marina (04 399 5000).
Sake No Hana: Another hotly anticipated nightspot arriving from Europe. The London original is a distinguished Japanese restaurant, but with the Crystal team flying it into Souk Al Bahar any day now, we’ve been told to expect something more in tune with Dubai’s nightlife scene: think a seamless lounge/restaurant/bar/club amalgamation. In such a prime location, and from such a proficient team, we can’t really see it failing. Expected to open in May. Souk Al Bahar (no number).
The Whistler: Just a couple of months old as we write this, The Whistler is yet to pick up the attention it perhaps deserves. A small, cosy and, in honesty, quite generic bar, it boasts one of the best grape selections south of Downtown, and it’s not unreasonably priced. The top draw, however, is the great selection of fresh cheese. Open Sat-Wed 6pm-1am. Thu-Fri 6pm-3am. Ocean View Hotel, JBR (04 814 5599).