Cocktails and Muslim culture don’t exactly go hand in hand. On a recent trip to Dubai, however, I was shocked to find a flourishing cocktail scene. Some of the newest bars are focusing on fresh juices, homemade syrups, tinctures and tonics, serving up modern craft cocktails.
If you head to Dubai, be informed before you arrive: Bars are allowed only in hotels, and you should never get drunk in this city in United Arab Emirates. Being visibly intoxicated can land you in jail. If you’re after a great cocktail, hit up Suga, Lao or Iris.
SUGA AT THE CONRAD
Suga has a brand new door policy this summer. Previously, you had to be a member. The club gave out keys, which opened the giant deadbolt on the enormous door in the basement. Now, the policy is loosening for nonmembers who may be interested in joining. Membership means cocktail classes, priority reservations at brand events and access to exclusive tastings. James Estes (previously of London’s Quo Vadis) designed the drink list, and it’s so stellar, Huffington Post UK called his Mother Superior cocktail “a drink to try before you die” for 2014.
The décor includes swank, black leather armchairs, chandeliers, a long, elegant bar and two anchoring, slightly retro art pieces by Spaniard Gabriel Moreno.
LAO AT THE WALDORF ASTORIA
In the rooms, stark white furniture and linens contrast with the blue of the Persian Gulf, which is visible off the private balconies. The brand new Waldorf Astoria is a premium experience on the city’s famous Palm Jumeirah island. Drinking here is the perfect vantage point for witnessing the wealth Dubai is famous for. The night I arrived, a line of exotic sports cars was parked in front.
“We get a lot of couples who live in neighboring parts of the UAE who like to come spend a weekend here. It makes our hotel unique, because we can count so many locals as regular guests,” explains Damian Lire, assistant director of food and beverage.
When you drink at Lao, there’s patio seating overlooking the pool or the indoor, action-packed chef’s counter. I suggest a round of shrimp dumplings along with their Caipirinha ($20). They do the tropical, Brazilian classic justice here.
IRIS AT THE OBEROI
Across India, Oberoi properties are famous for hospitality and service. The chain has brought its A-game to the Dubai property. No matter if you are there simply for drinks or staying the week, the staff calls to you by name, introducing you to others as they pass in the lobby. A casual elegance makes drinking here fun — especially if you can get into the brand new rooftop spot, Iris. With drinks by Sebouh Tato keeping you cool (alongside misting fans), you can take in the incredible Burj Kalifa as it lights up the night sky. The design here is a modern, urban-chic mix of metal and wood. Tato’s cocktails are as good as any you’ll find in London or New York.
Try the For Marjorie ($20). It’s smoky, slightly sweet, with a bracing, refreshing finish, thanks to Lagavulin 16 Scotch, grapefruit and Tato’s homemade pink marmalade.