By Lubna Hamdan
Dubai's best-kept speakeasy bars, lounges and nightclubs for business and pleasure revealed
From New York and London to Hong Kong and Singapore, every major world city has had its fair share of the speakeasy culture, with some recently referring to the concept as a cliché. But in Dubai, it’s really just getting started.
The concept of a speakeasy began in the 1920s as a means to continue selling alcohol when the United States banned its sale, manufacture or transportation during the Prohibition era. The clandestine entertainment venues features hidden entrances and rules of entry including passwords required for access.
But the trend made a bigger buzz in 1999, when legendary bartender Sasha Petraske opened the first of its kind New York speakeasy bar Milk & Honey on New Year’s Eve and simultaneously revived the then-vulnerable cocktail culture through his use of mixers and sweeteners to mask the smell of alcohol.
While Dubai hasn’t had the decades – or the Petraske - that New York had to develop its speakeasy culture, here are some of the city’s own hidden concepts that are worth a try.
It’s located behind a secret door at Hollywood-themed hotel Paramount in Downtown Dubai. Ask the front desk for its location and enjoy a 1920’s Prohibition era-style theme complete with retro barstools and record players. It gets better: the secret bar has a secret room within it that’s used for private meetings and events.
It claims to be the smallest bar in Dubai with a seating capacity of just 25 guests. Located behind a hidden door at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, Storyteller by Baba customises drinks for each guest based on their personal story, giving each visitor a unique experience as they lounge in the intimate, dimly lit space adorned with archived images of famous faces including Ernest Hemingway.
The password’s in the name as all you have to do to get in is give two “KnoX” at a large metal door (if you can tell which one) to get into this speakeasy bar at the newly-opened Andaz Dubai The Palm. Calling all guests to “leave their inhibitions behind,” it promises to immerse them in a world where “rules could be broken and the underground becomes the only place you want to bring your tribe”.
As it name suggests, this bar was merely a luggage room in the Millennium Place Marina before the hotel transformed it into a swanky, cosy hideaway with 1960’s décor and a hand-crafted cocktail menu. Pop in if you’re in the mood for some solo time or tell a few friends and enjoy old school classics and even board games. Hint: you can find The Luggage Room tucked away near the lobby.
This place was opened by one of the students of the first masters of speakeasy bars. David Myers, also known as the Gypsy Chef, was taught by Sam Ross, a master mixologist at Petraske’s original Milk & Honey in New York. It gets busy on the weekends but it’s relaxed on weekdays, making it the perfect spot for an intimate drink or two. Poppy is located above Myers’ Italian restaurant Basta! In the Renaissance Downtown Hotel.
Another speakeasy nightclub is Cartel, which as its name suggests is designed with infamous drug lords like Pablo Escobar in mind. A bright red neon sign even reads “Pablo was here”. Located above popular Mexican hotspot La Carnita in the Intercontinental Dubai Marina, Cartel requires a password for entry, but you can message them on Instagram and try your luck. We recommend you grab a bite at La Cartina before heading upstairs. Their churros are to die for – even Pablo would agree.
It’s located below Chef Izu Ani’s famous Greek restaurant Gaia in DIFC. Named after the Greek goddess of the night, secret club Nyx has hosted celebrities including rapper 50 Cent. But you won’t find much about it online, or any pictures in fact. And if you’re not on the list, you’re not likely to get in.
The entrance is not your typical one, as guests need to walk through a dim-lit bathroom and down a flight of stairs to get to his hidden bar located near underground nightclub Industrial Avenue in The Westin Mina Seyahi. It’s where everyone heads for pre-drinks before the clubbing begins, so make sure you get in early.
It’s one of Dubai’s best-kept secrets and among the city’s first speakeasy bars. Situated in the Dusit Thani hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, it’s inspired by Japan’s whiskey and beer manufacturing scene, presenting a unique blend of drinks influenced by the Japanese drinking culture.
It’s designed to transport visitors to the low-lit backstreets of Asia. Located inside popular Asian restaurant Miss Tess, which is known for its lively atmosphere and funky entertainment, The Unlucky Cat in Taj Dubai is relaxed and intimate, embodying the original laid back speakeasy style.