Time Out Dubai

By : Brian Scudder




This month is the first month of the rest of your lives, party people. The clubbing/dining/drinking landscape of this city is about to change in one of those seismic shudders that occur every couple of years here – not exactly sweeping all before it, but certainly sending you off to play in new and different directions. 


September sees the launch of the Fairmont’s impressive, as-yet-unnamed nightclub (private previews Sunday 15 and Monday 16, public opening Tuesday 17.043325555). Not to be outdone, the Intercon’s equally effulgent Mystizo DJ bar and restaurant opens this month (private preview Sunday 15, public opening Monday 16.042227171), as does Sho Cho’s new plein air jetty extension, (launching towards the end of the month. 04 304 8173), and Le Meridien’s extended Barasti Bar (public opening September 15.043993333).

AQ new club/restaurant, Boudoir, opens at the Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa mid-November in the space formerly occupied by the abortive Charlie’s (soft restaurant opening during Ramadan, building up to the full restaurant/club concept after Eid. 04 2885642). And there will be others, within a similar time frame.

There’s the conversation of the former Med Restaurant in the Crowne Plaza to a rock Bottom-esq theme bar/club, for example (opening likely after Eid). Or those other major projects rumored to be on the horizon – a nightclub on one of the upper floors of the still-under-construction Shangri-La Hotel on Sheik Zayed Road, and the big space being put in to the Garhoud Bridge Grande Hyatt. (Hyatt has only just taken down what was an increasingly amusing ‘open summer 2002’ sign, so we might assume something will open at the beginning of next year.) It’s enough to take your breath away.

And it’s about time, too. Dubai’s nightlife has been in a bit of malaise of late. Sure, there are a million exquisite new ‘ethnic’ restaurants to choose from. Sure there are funky people out there putting on novel new nights in the city’s clubs (see ‘Beats and pieces’ and listings for Planetarium in Nightlife). But almost none manage to combine the two.

This puts Dubai very much out of sync with the rest of the world. From New York to Tokyo, the young things of every major metropolis are flocking to the latest ‘ multi entertainment’ and ‘eatertainment’ venues. And the new bar/restaurants mentioned above are jostling to fill the gap left here.

Design eclecticism is the element all these venues have in common. Each one hopes to create a look and feel that firmly differentiates it from the competition in the quest for your party dirham. Unlike the ersatz club/pubs of yesteryear, each has either been designed by the world’s best interior designers, or has, at a bare minimum, been well researched from the countless bright spots around the world.

Influences vary, but the theme remains the same: subtle combinations of food and music; Eastern and Western motifs; color and texture; the old and the new.

Take Mystizo, if you will. This extremely modern space – set next to La Moda on the first floor of the Intercon – has been designed around the story of a 15th Century traveler. Someone who has brought artifacts and foods from the ‘known world’ back home. Somewhere in the Mediterranean.

‘A traveler is not going to have things in his home from one part of the world,’ says Barbara Allen, the Japanese-American regional design director for Hospitality & Leisure Asia, the Kuala Lumpur-based architecture and interior design firm responsible for Mystizo. ‘Our traveler has traveled to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, Spain and as far afield as Singapore.’

‘The art is sensuous-very modern. Some pieces are being sculptured for us in Australia, other pieces are coming from art houses in the United States. Some come from Morocco, some from Spain. Think about how you live in your home, how you travel. What is Dubai? I lived in Hong Kong for 13 years and in the same vein as Hong Kong, Dubai has said, ‘Let’s position our entire city in the market’. But the market is not the Middle East, the market is the world. Once you have said ‘we are going to the world finance centre. We are going to become a world tourist centre.’ then you become global, and in doing so you are multicultural. Mystizo will reflect that.’

A venue with similar pretensions must be the club space in the Fairmont. Initial affiliations with London’s China White nightclub, renowned for the Chinese and Balinese sculpture, screens and artwork that surround the hedonism of the club itself, mean that the interior has a strong Arabic fell with subtle Oriental undertones.

While the extension to the jetty looking our over the sea just outside Sho Cho’s door in the Dubai Marine will not be heavily Oriental, more an awning-covered place for good times in good weather, Sho Cho itself is another interesting case in point. Designed by Kamran Riazi and Greg Oram of Washington design partnership Oramriazi (, Sho Cho was the first independent bar/restaurant to attempt the East-West fusion concept in Dubai. With similarly interesting designs for erstwhile Washington sushi joint Chez Huang’s, and bars and restaurants like Cities, Perry’s and Zuki Moon, Oramriazi set the trend.

A more recently opened venue to develop the fusion theme, albeit with a heavier reliance on Oriental design than Sho Cho, Ginseng in the Pyramid’s complex proved that Dubai punters are ready for the change. After q quiet start, Ginseng is now busy with a genuinely cosmopolitan mix of Dubaians relaxing to house music from resident DJ’s and grazing on the ‘contemporary Asian tapas’, Add the Orientalist influence on the Kasbar nightclub in the Royal Mirage, and you can see the mix is expanding fast.

Along with similar design goals, another common factor to all of these outlets is the music policy. Modern, eclectic, dance centred ambience is the name of the game – as it is in London, New York, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Indeed, Allen’s design for Mystizo allows for several incarnations of the club/bar/restaurant in the same space. Beside the large restaurant area is a DJ bar. A full-on club space is set into the back of the outlet.

‘I call it a multi-entertainment centre because you can sit in a totally different area of the space and get a different experience of it,’ says Allen. ‘If you want to be in a quiet corner and be nice and cozy, you can. And if you want to go and have a romantic session you can. Or if you want to be where the music is, you can . Being able to get all of those elements in one place makes for a very energetic environment for people who are seeking a really good time. The idea is that it is never boring.’ Indeed, Allen has incorporated a moveable metal screen dividing the restaurant from the DJ bar that can be opened and drawn so that bar staff can manage sound levels in each area according to whether people are in a rowdy mood or not.

The idea of changing the pace of an evening is not new to Dubai. But that of turning a venue from restaurant to club all in one evening is. Sho Cho and Ginseng do it to a certain extent,, and new restaurant/club Boudoirhas this firmly in mind – with a twist.

‘Boudoir is based ion the castles and fairy tales of the Louis 14th era in France,’ says Patrick Robineau, managing director of Boudoir. ‘It’s major influences comes from La Villa Romana in Monte Carlo, which is again based on a Louis 14th theme, with staff dressed in very funky Louis 14th clothes. It also comes from Man-Ray – the bar and club on the Champs Elysee. They do exactly what we are going to do with the restaurant turning into a club. We want people to dance and let go.’

Robineau’s staff are coming from well-known St Tropez clubs La Voile Rouge and Papagayo, popular with Dubai’s Arab crowd in the summer. Its bar manager will come from London’s Hakassam. A one-star Michelin head chef from Hempel.

‘Dubai reminds me a lot of Singapore 10 or 12 years ago,’ says Ed Poole of Poole Associates, the design firm renovating the downstairs cafe in the Intercon (Boulvar opens September 8) and the driving force behind 400 club, bar and restaurant designs around Asia (see Lava Lounge interiors, left). ‘There is a lot of development and society is changing by the year.’

Poole believes Dubai could compete with many of Asia’s entertainment centres under the right circumstances. ‘In terms of investing in these things, Jakarta is politically dangerous; Kuala Lumpur has lifted its currency restrictions and is pretty good at the moment; Bangkok is supposed to be really happening; Hong Kong? Forget it. It’s dead, Shanghai is doing phenomenally well, it is sucking Hong Kong dry. The problem is, as soon as you do well you get that little knock on the door with someone saying, ‘Oh, you forgot to pay this special tax. Dubai has a lot going for it. It is equidistant from London and Singapore, and it’s a stable place. But it will depend on opening up the laws on individual investment.’

While that may be a while away, Poole has a very good point. Boudoir is a semi-independent project, and as ownership laws change, others will follow. In the meantime, enjoy September. It’s going to be a fun month.


next page home