Dubai may be famous for its glitzy clubs, but there's also a more low-key underground scene growing. The busiest nights are Thursday and Friday – Dubai’s weekend nights – when party animals let off steam in the bars and on the dance floor. Alcohol is served in hotels and some licensed venues only. Many locals prefer going out for shisha, mocktails or coffee.
Bars & Pubs
Snug pubs, beachside lounges, DJ bars, dive bars, cocktail temples, hotel lounges – there's such variety, finding a libation station to match your mood or budget is not exactly a tall order in Dubai. Generally, the emphasis is on style and atmosphere and proprietors have often gone to extraordinary lengths to come up with unique design concepts.
Venues in Downtown Dubai, Jumeirah, Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah tend to be on the fancy side and appeal mostly to well-heeled visitors and expats. Beachfront lounges and rooftop bars continue to be popular. Away from the five-star hotels, bars and pubs in Bur Dubai and Deira are more of a low-key, gritty affair. Note that prostitution, though officially illegal, is tolerated in many establishments in all parts of town.
Shisha & Mocktails
Most Emiratis and other Muslims don’t drink alcohol, preferring to socialise over coffee, juice and mocktails. If you’re not up for drinking, follow the locals to a mellow shisha cafe and play a game of backgammon. Even if you don’t smoke, it’s tempting to recline languorously and sample a puff of the sweet flavours. Shisha cafes are open until after midnight, and later during the winter months. The going rate is Dhs35 to Dhs125 per pipe for a session. Remember though: popular and atmospheric as the pastime is, smoking shisha isn't any better for your health than smoking cigarettes.
DJs spin every night of the week with the top names hitting the decks on Thursdays and Fridays. Partying is not restricted to nighttime, with plenty of beach clubs like Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE kicking into gear midday on weekends in the cooler months. The sound repertoire is global – funk, soul, trip-hop, hip-hop, R&B, African, Arabic and Latino – although the emphasis is still clearly on house, tech and other EDM (electronic dance music).
Globetrotting big-name DJs like Ellen Allien, Carl Craig, Steve Aoki, Russ Yallop, Roger Sanchez and Ben Klock occasionally jet in for the weekend to whip the crowd into a frenzy in the top venues and at megaparties like Groove on the Grass or Party in the Park. But there's plenty of resident spin talent as well. The roster is constantly in flux, of course, but names to keep on the radar include Jixo & Danz, KayteK, Siamak Amidi, Hoolz, Scott Forshaw, Ron E Jazz and Josephine De Retour.
Some top parties are put on by local record labels, promoters or event agencies such as Audio Tonic (progressive house), Plus Minus (deep house and techno), Analog Room (underground techno-electro), Globalfunk (drum & bass), Superheroes (house, drum & bass), Bassworx (drum & bass) and Bad House Party (indie-punk-eclectic).
The best source for the latest music and club world news, including an up-to-the-minute party schedule, is the free biweekly Hype magazine, available at bars, boutiques, gyms and spas around town and online (www.thehypemagazine.com/tag/dubai). The booklet-sized Infusion magazine is another handy source (www.infusion.ae), as are the Dubai pages of club-scene stalwart Resident Advisor (www.residentadvisor.net) and Time Out Dubai (www.timeoutdubai.com).
Dress Code & Door Policies
Doors are tough at many clubs, and anyone bouncers feel does not fit in with the crowd may be turned away. This goes especially for single men or men-only groups, since most venues only allow women, couples and mixed groups past the velvet rope. Some clubs require table reservations and minimum spends. The more upmarket ones also have a dress code (check Facebook or the website if unsure) that is strictly enforced, so make sure you've ironed that shirt and leave your jeans, sneakers and flats at home. Beachside venues are more relaxed, while indie and underground clubs tend not to have a door policy. Bring your ID, as they are sometimes checked.
Some clubs have been accused of racist policies, particularly against South Asians.
If a top DJ is at the decks, you can usually buy advance tickets online. For some club nights, you need to get on the guest list.
Happy Hour & Ladies' Nights
One way to stretch your drinking budget is by hitting the happy hours offered by a wide roster of bars, from dives to five-star lounges, either on specific days of the week or even daily. Discounts range from 50% off drinks to two-for-one deals or double measures on selected beverages. Most start early in the evening, usually around 5pm or 6pm, and run for two or three hours. They're hugely popular with the after-work crowd and also a good way to ring in a night on the town. Some venues also have a second happy hour later at night.
Women have yet more options for liquoring up on the cheap during ladies' nights. Many bars and pubs go to extraordinary lengths to lure women with free cocktails, bubbly and nibbles. Of course, they don't do this out of the goodness of their hearts; after all, where there are tipsy women, men (who pay full price) follow. Some ladies' nights run all night; others only during certain hours. The most popular nights are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with fewer deals on other nights and hardly any on the weekend. Check www.ladiesnightdubai.com for the latest news and a round-up of venues.
Desert Drum Circle
Dubai Drums (www.dubaidrums.com) hosts regular full-moon drum circles (adult/child Dhs270/115) in desert camps. These sessions usually last several hours and occasionally until the early hours of the morning. Watch for the near-legendary all-nighter events. Drums and a barbecue dinner are provided.
Drinking Alcohol in Dubai
One of the most common questions among first-time visitors is: ‘Can I drink alcohol in Dubai?’ The answer is yes – in some places.
Tourists over 21 are allowed to drink alcohol in designated areas such as licensed bars and clubs attached to Western-style hotels. By law, drinking anywhere else does require being in possession of an alcohol licence; which is only issued to non-Muslim residents. The licence grants the right to purchase a fixed monthly limit of alcohol sold in special liquor stores such as African & Eastern and in some branches of Spinneys supermarket. Note that visitors are not officially permitted to purchase alcohol in these places, and staff are supposed to ask to see the licence.
When arriving by air, non-Muslim visitors over 18 may buy 4L of spirits, wine or beer in the airport duty-free shop. However, it is illegal to transport alcohol without a licence, whether in a taxi, hire car or the Dubai Metro. In practice, this is widely ignored.
Dubai has zero tolerance when it comes to drinking and driving. And we mean zero: under no circumstances should you ever get behind the wheel of a car if you’ve had even one sip of alcohol. Getting caught could get you a one-month stint in jail, a fine and deportation. Even just being drunk in public is illegal and may also result in jail time and a fine of several thousand dirham. Also note that even if you are the victim of a crime (eg sexual assault or robbery), police protection may be limited if you are found to be under the influence.
Need to Know
- A pint of draught beer will set you back Dhs25 to Dhs70, a glass of wine Dhs30 to Dhs75 and a cocktail Dhs40 to Dhs100.
- Clubs charge from Dhs50 to Dhs300 for big-name DJs. Women get free admission at many venues. Sometimes there is no cover but a minimum spend.
- Hotel bars are often open from morning to midnight or 1am.
- Clubs open at 10pm, get going around 11pm and close at 3am.
- Since 2016 Dubai bars are also open – and serve alcohol – during the day during Ramadan. Most clubs close during this period.
Dancing and loud music in public places is strictly forbidden. This includes beaches, parks and residential areas; dancing is restricted to licensed venues only.