Drinking Up in Dubai
Before I departed for the Middle East, numerous friends offered up their unsolicited advice on Dubai’s drinking scene. “You can drink there, but don’t get drunk,” said one friend who had never actually set foot in the United Arab Emirates. “They will arrest you if you’re noticeably wasted.”
“You have to have a license to drink,” claimed another of my informants, “and you can only drink in hotels.”
“The drinking scene sucked when I was there a few years back,” opined a third, though at least he had spent some time in that area of the world.
For the curious world traveler and libation enthusiast, let me set the record straight. First, hotels are the only establishments that are allowed to serve alcohol in Dubai, but tourists don’t need a license to drink—only locals must be licensed. Second, those wishing to raise a glass or two would be wise to enjoy all things in moderation, since Dubai police can arrest someone who is visibly intoxicated. Third, Dubai’s drinking scene does not suck. In fact, the emirate’s bar scene is on the rise. Cocktail services are comparable to what you may find in most U.S. or European cities, and if you choose wisely, you could be handsomely rewarded.
The Latest and Greatest
It seems as if new hotels are sprouting up from Dubai’s artificial islands on a near-monthly basis. Because of that, the competition to satiate discerning drinkers is fierce. One of the latest contenders, the Waldorf Astoria on the Palm Jumeirah, opened in early spring. As proof of an ever-shrinking world, fantastic Brazilian caipirinhas can be ordered off the menu at the property’s Southeast Asian restaurant Lao.
Elsewhere in Dubai, a craft cocktail–focused bar called Iris just opened on the rooftop of the Oberoi, and it’s there that Sebouh Tato, head bartender, performs his magic. Make sure you ask him to mix you a For Marjori—it’s a twist on the margarita that emphasizes smoky scotch and house-made pink marmalade.
It used to be that only members were given keys to the door at Suga, one of the city’s most coveted speakeasies (located in the basement of the swanky Conrad Hotel); and for a while, the bar staff held firm to the policy that only those who unlocked the deadbolt could gain entry. As of this summer, however, things have changed. “We are still a members’ bar,” explains James Estes, the mastermind behind Suga’s cocktail menu, “but we have taken a new direction to be a bit more welcoming to nonmembers who are interested in signing up.” If you are not a registered key holder, you can now enjoy Suga by calling ahead and making a reservation.
“The drinks scene in Dubai is growing,” Estes says. “Generally, people here like to be seen spending obscene amounts of money on designer-brand Champagnes, magnums of vodka, et cetera. From what I can see in my short time here, though, people are becoming more discerning about what they drink.”
If you should find yourself seated at Suga’s long, elegant bar and unsure what to order, we recommend Estes’s Mother Superior. It’s a Bacardi Superior–based concoction that he created in homage to the mai tai. “When I first sat down with a bottle of Bacardi Superior, I immediately got a strong essence of apricot on the nose. Perhaps this is because I love apricots, but I decided to build around this flavor,” he says. “I added grapefruit juice and balanced it with the sweetness of orgeat and apricot jam, binding that together with Campari, which is another flavor that I absolutely love. The finish is a concoction of a few of my favorite things, all living harmoniously in one glass.”