When it comes to going out for a drink in Dubai, well, it does require certain planning in advance. Wide range of restaurants, cafes that are usually in shopping centers or right next to them, do offer a great choice welcoming even the pickiest tourists. But if you occasionally want to enjoy a glass of vine, a pint of beer or any other alcoholic beverage, it becomes a bit tricky. Or at least – different.
Those who have experienced traveling to Arab countries are acquainted with the fact that there is usually no alcohol served anywhere publicly, except perhaps in hotel bars. In some countries there are also specific shops for these beverages. Needles to say that I have occasionally witnessed Arab men buying couple of bottles in such a shop in the Middle East, wrapping it in black bags in order to hide the content. Society rules are set according to Islam and therefore alcohol is banned.
The issue is however taken to the extreme in Dubai. Or at least, you’ve guest it – over the top! The city is proud to be “open” and “meet the needs” of all those people who live and work there, and who do not always come from Muslim countries. But Dubai itself is still a Muslim city.
So, if you want to buy a bottle of wine for your friends coming to dinner, you will be obligated to have a certain “alcohol license” which you can acquire only if you work in the city. In order to get that licence foreigners who work in Dubai apply for it, they get a piece of plastic with all the important ID data and they are allowed to buy alcohol valued at their monthly earnings.
And if you want to go out for a drink, you would have to visit one of the hotels or shopping centers, and peek behind certain heavy closed doors. As we did…
Friday night, taxi cars going in all directions, busy streets, crowded entrances to big hotels. We were going out for a drink, and to my surprise – we were headed to one of the hotels. Popular pubs are to be found there, my friends explained, even though somewhat “hidden”.
A lot of people were coming in and out of the hotel with numerous cars stopping in front of it. The hotel was all luminous and shiny (as everything else was in Dubai), but still quiet. Entering the big hall decorated with marble and brass, glassy banisters, hostesses were welcoming us. Hotel guests were bustling around, but there was still no sound of a typical going out bar. Rather a murmur of people passing by.
“Hopefully, my friends do know where we are”, it crossed my mind, going up couple of stairs and turning right to some kind of a corridor.
Huge, heavy, wooden, dark double door appeared before us. A huge, dark man was standing in front of it, in a huge, dark suit. He was just talking to two young Arab guys in white dishdashas and with red and white scarves keffiyas on their heads.
“This is no place for you, sir. Please, be so kind and go somewhere else for a tea, here we serve alcohol”, the big guy guarding the door said, smiling to them.
They were still curious, persistent, wanted to go in, to see what was behind those forbidden doors.
“I don’t mind, sir. I would be happy to let you in, it is not forbidden, but please have in mind that I wouldn’t advise you to. The place is for Europeans, Westerners, believe me”, said the huge, smiling guy once again.
As their conversation went on, we were reaching the door. They were all smiling, all three of them. Those young Arabs glanced at us, blushing a bit, and a huge guard showed all of his white teeth smiling pleasantly.
“Good evening, madam, sir, welcome”, he said while opening those huge doors for us: “Please, do come in. Have a good evening.”
As the guy opened the huge door, that striking silence of the hotel lobby was immediately crushed into pieces. We got overwhelmed by the noise of a band playing inside – they said it was from Bulgaria. People laughing, drinking, speaking loudly and dancing away from one side of the bar to the other – mostly Europeans, of all ages. Another step and we got in, slapped by the scent of “fish and chips”, and a heavy flavor of draft beer. Yes, it was one of those typical English pubs!
Dubai offers a variety of English and Irish brands of pubs which is understandable having in mind that the first colonists here were actually British and that a huge population of them still live and work in UAE. And so, Dubai “has met their needs” and allowed those bars to flourish, soaked in beer and crowded by “embalmed” Westerners, but restricted to special indoor spaces, shut off from the rest of the sober world outside.
If you want something a bit different, it is easy to find a Russian bar with familiar Kalinka beats coming from within, smell of vodka and blue eyes staring at you at the entrance (well, you were supposed to dress accordingly and wear pants and shoes instead of those snickers and shorts). Or you can just go to one of the bars in Souk Madinat Jumeira with live (Arab-Latino!) bands, or to some other pubs raving the night away.
And it doesn’t matter if you drink alcohol or not, it is just the thing that grabs your attention – the absurdity of the situation! On one hand, you do respect the fact that it is banned because you are in a Muslim country, right. But at the same time, so much alcohol is pouring during weekends that you just have to forget where you are… Hm, that might have actually been the ultimate intention?
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