Dubai may not be the obvious choice for a boozy break. But is it possible to enjoy a few bevvies without breaking the bank or getting your hand chopped off?
Being in a Muslim country, alcohol is a contentious issue in Dubai. Although it’s available in bars, restaurants and clubs inside western hotels, as these tend to be mainly 5* establishments coupled with the fact booze is highly taxed, it doesn’t come cheap. Drinking on the street is a big no-no and public displays of drunkenness could get you arrested. An elderly UK man in neighbouring Saudi Arabia hit the news before we went for making his own home-brew, getting caught, spending a year in jail and being threatened with 350 lashes.
So how would I fare going out on the lash in Dubai?
To save yourself some money, it is perfectly legal to take your own drinks into the country. United Arab Emirates’ customs and excise website says every non-Muslim entering the UAE can bring up to 24 cans of beer or 4 litres of wine and spirits with them.
Instead, upon landing we went to the airport duty-free and got a bargain – 12 cans of Tsingtao for 45 AED (about £9 – cheaper than the UK). You can even order your duty-free in advance, and collect it upon arrival.
Perhaps things weren’t going to be as pricey as we’d feared. After checking in to our hotel and after a long flight, rather than going out to inspect Dubai’s beer and bar scene, we thought we’d try the hotel’s bars. Big mistake.
The Iris bar on the 27th floor of our hotel wouldn’t let me in. The doorman took one look at me in my shorts and t-shirt and shook his head disapprovingly. There was a high quota of cocktail dresses and suits inside – was I to regret not packing any long trousers? Fortunately, the lobby bar took no issue with my fashion sense, so I sunk into a comfy seat, ordered a small bottle of Peroni and relaxed. Then the bill came. At 45 AED/£9, it was the same price I’d paid for 12 cans of Tsingtao. And don’t ask how much Kat’s small glass of Pinot Grigio was (oh, go on then – 75 AED/£15).
One of our favourite bars was Double Decker at the Al Murooj Rotana hotel in the Financial District. A bit like being in Covent Garden, only warmer, it is decked out in London Underground memorabilia and has an outdoor seating area. By now, I’d just about got used to the scandalous prices and was paying 50 AED (£10) for pints of Tiger.
Ladies get a good deal here though, and anywhere else in Dubai on a Tuesday night. This is dubbed as Ladies Night, and all ‘ladies’ get five free drinks – there is absolutely no catch, no entry fees, no need to be with a paying customer and you’re free to leave after you’ve had all five if you wish. I’m not sure how this sits with the UK’s Equality Act 2010, but it gets the punters in bars – both male and female. So while I had two pints of Tiger for £20, Kat enjoyed five free boozy cocktails like Gin Sling, Mojito and Long Island Iced Tea. Two women in their 70s were sitting near us necking Daiquiris and had a free night out.
One downside to drinking in Dubai is that because it’s not a very walkable city (rubbish pavements, too hot, dangerous drivers), it’s easy to stay in one bar and not move on. A Dubai pub crawl would involve multiple taxis. Another drawback is lack of choice for a refreshing daytime drink in the heat. One day, we walked over 2km from Madinat Jumeirah to Kite Beach, and were both gagging for an ice-cold cider. Now I know you shouldn’t expect a strip of pubs playing Only Fools and Horses video when in Dubai, but a few beach bars would have been nice. Instead, we acquired an unhealthy taste for minted lemonade and fruit smoothies.
So to answer my question, yes it’s possible to drink and get drunk in Dubai, although there might not be enough material for a series of Dubai Uncovered for a while.