There must be something in the air right now. In the space of just a few weeks, Dubai’s nightlife scene has been transformed by a wave of new nightspots, all of them high-end brands landing in the Middle East directly from London.
The British invasion began in mid-November when the Fairmont opened the theatrically themed Cirque du Soir, the infamous London hangout of Lady Gaga, among other A-listers. Just a few days later, exclusive ‘supper lounge’ Embassy landed in Grosvenor House, while Christmas came early with the opening of Mahiki, a favourite of the British royal family (the younger generation, at least), at Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
Just days later, amid no fanfare at all, perhaps the most infamous club brand of all opened discreetly at the back of the Radisson Royal Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Known worldwide as London’s playboy paradise and celeb central, Movida is now set to have its official opening in Dubai with a celeb-packed, grand launch party on January 25.
‘This is the right time for Dubai,’ explains Movida founder and British entrepreneur Marc Merren as we wander around the empty tables and glittering private dancefloors that make up his latest venture one Tuesday afternoon. ‘Dubai is a new country, one of the most amazing places in the world. Over the past 10 years Dubai has been working to attract people, and in the past two years it got to that point where people recognise the name – and now they’re coming en masse. Dubai has become a main player. First you get hotels to stay in, then restaurants to eat in – then you need somewhere to party.’
Back in London, the name Movida is synonymous with celebrity silliness and red-top revelry. It was named London’s Best Club at the London Bar and Club Awards three years running between 2006 and 2008, and has the clientele to boot: if the tabloids are to be believed, it’s the place where Paris Hilton became lifelong pals with Jordan, where Jay-Z buddied up with Frank Lampard, and where Princess Eugenie of York sprayed guests with bubbly. Elsewhere, Movida London’s own Twitter feed boasts about recent visits from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Cee Lo Green, The Black Eyed Peas’ Will.i.am, Kate Moss, Beyoncé and many, many more.
The original club was launched in 2005 by Merren (who refuses to share his age, but describes himself as having ‘more than 20 years experience’ in London’s nightlife industry) in an attempt to recreate the vibe of the French Côte d’Azur on home turf. Since then the entrepreneur claims to have turned down at least three offers to transplant the Movida brand to Dubai, with locations including The Palm Jumeirah and The World touted. But his arm was twisted when he met Evgeny Kuzih, a Russian investor in his late twenties who knows a good party when he sees one. ‘I explained to Evgeny that I needed the right location – and buckets of cash,’ laughs Merren, ‘and he said “no problem”.’ Sitting quietly to his left, Evgeny adds with a grin: ‘I had a lot of good memories of Movida – people always have a really good time.’
The resulting club they have crafted together exudes class. Sleekly lit in moody purple, there are a number of less-than-discreet markers that spell out just how exclusive the spot is. For starters, there is no bar (waiters emerge to offer bottle service only). Each table has its own floor-lit private dancefloor (‘people don’t want to travel far’, says Merren). And there are two entrances – one reserved for ‘extra-special’ VIPs, who need only walk a few metres from the seat of their car down a special first-floor glass walkway.
These touches have already seduced the rich and famous in the know – in the first few days following late December’s soft opening in Dubai, Amir Khan, Lady Victoria Hervey and US hip-hop star Jeremih all stopped by. Maintaining its exclusive reputation is clearly paramount to Movida’s appeal, and the club is policed by a door entry policy that can hardly be described as welcoming.
‘To book a table, you have to be known,’ says Merren flatly. ‘All of our waiters have been flown in from Saint Tropez, Cannes, London – and unless you’re known to party in these areas, you won’t get in. You can
call the table booking guy, but unless he knows you, you won’t get a table.’ And while there is no official minimum spend, ‘if you’re in here, you’re going to be spending,’ Evgeny adds.
Of course, there are only a finite number of clubbers wealthy enough to deserve such special attention, and even the most elementary club manager might be worried about the sudden opening of so much new nightlife competition. But to Merren, the only legitimate competition for Dubai’s big spenders is Cirque du Soir, and while there may be competition, he claims there is no contest. ‘It’s very theatrical, but if you’ve been to the theatre once you’ve seen the show,’ he says. ‘We focus on the music, not the clowns.’
Movida is open Wed-Fri, 10pm-3am. Radisson Royal Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.movida-club.com (055 174 4449).
Three more new arrivals from London
Mahiki: Stationed round the corner from London’s Ritz Hotel, the original Mahiki nightclub has been notorious for its celebrity clientele since opening in 2006 – it’s referred to as a favourite haunt of British heirs to the throne Princes William and Harry. Its Polynesian theme, theatrically mixed drinks and cheese-heavy music policy has divided opinions since the brand landed in Dubai before Christmas, when it was visited by Made in Chelsea’s Millie Mackintosh and Salt-N-Pepa.
Free entry; one-bottle minimum spend in lounge, Dhs3,000 minimum table spend in main club. Open daily 6pm-3am, Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 380 7731).
Embassy: Originally established in London in 1870, Embassy is a tad more traditional than some of the other brands landing in our city. The Dubai incarnation – an three-storey affair offering 360° views from the 43rd and 45th floors of Grosvenor House – attracted a gaggle of celebs to its mid-November launch, including English cricketer Kevin Pietersen, Brit model Abigail Clancy, The Only Way is Essex stars Sam Faiers and Jessica Wright, and singers Eva Simons and Katie Waissel.
Free entry; no minimum table spend. Lounge or restaurant reservations required. Open Sat-Sun and Tue-Wed 10pm-2am, Thu-Fri 10pm-3am. Grosvenor House, Dubai Marina (04 317 6000).
Cirque du Soir: The youngest – and quirkiest – of the new arrivals, Cirque opened in London in 2009, and is renowned for attracting a markedly more flamboyant and musical blend of celebrity, including Lady Gaga, Usher, David Guetta, Scarlett Johansson and Leonardo DiCaprio. In mid-November the theatrical circus-themed club – complete with fire breathers, jugglers and clowns – launched amid much fanfare in Dubai at the Fairmont Dubai (the former home of the 400 Club), and since then Shahrukh Khan, Haifa Wehbe and Chilean footballer Luis Antonio Jiménez have all paid a visit.
Free entry; Dhs5,000 minimum table spend. Guest list and table booking only. Open Tue, Thu-Fri 10pm-3am. Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 332 4900).