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Drink like a local • Bars in the Middle East

Quintessential drinking experiences in the Middle East – local bars the locals love…

 

Ruel Pableo

Abu Dhabi • UAE

Try: a jelly Martini at Ray’s Bar

Soak up heart-stopping views of the Emirati capital from the 62nd floor of the chic Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel. Then soak up a jelly Martini from Ray Bar’s lengthy drinks menu – sharp and fruity with little cubes of jelly bobbing about, it packs a potent punch…

Plushly decorated and intimately lit, Ray’s Bar exudes Humphrey Bogart white-tux class in a slightly space-age setting. The bartenders are, as you’d expect, a talented bunch, mixing drinks with confidence and flair. You’ll find they are more than willing to stir up something bespoke for you – if you engage them in a conversation about your favourite cocktail or preferred flavours. Beyond cocktails, the pop-art styled drinks menu is extensive, offering Champagne, wines and spirits for the less adventurous.

The bar’s perch on 62nd floor of the hotel adds to the rarefied atmosphere, and it’s perhaps the high-altitude panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf and rapidly evolving Abu Dhabi cityscape that make a jelly Martini at Ray’s an essential AD experience. Low lighting lures guests into alcoves and behind velvet drapes while a deep house soundtrack enlivens the ambience at the weekend. Even in a city that values luxury Ray’s Bar is in a class of its own. Anna McCormack, sub-editor, Time Out Abu Dhabi

Ray’s Bar Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Ras Al Akhdar, Abu Dhabi, UAE. +971 2 811 5555.

Discover more of Abu Dhabi’s best bars

 

Picture by Alexander Wilson

Beirut • Lebanon

Try: Arak at Anise

Sip on a glass of arak, Lebanon’s favourite aniseed aperitif, and experience an age-old Levantine ritual in one of the city’s most exciting up-and-coming nightlife spots.

Over the last couple of years, boutiques, art spaces and bars have been sprouting up in Mar Mikhael, making this once down-at-the-heel district an unmissable Beirut destination. For many, this Armenian neighbourhood’s charm still lies in its authenticity – a factor the owners of Anise, the newest kid on the block, are keen to preserve. With only a discreet label above the doorbell announcing its presence, Anise feels clandestine and old world. Traditionally tiled floors, floral wallpaper and the natty uniforms of the bartenders (all cousins, by the way) make for a warm welcome and homely atmosphere. Anise’s specialty is, you guessed it, arak – Lebanon’s time-honoured elixir. Acquire a taste of Beirut by trying one of the seven regional varieties served in the traditional fashion: with a little water, ice and fresh mint. For an exotic twist, try arak with sharab el toot – the sweet, pink syrup of Lebanon’s mulberry orchards. John Burns, Nightlife editor, Time Out Beirut

Anis, Alexander Flemming Street, Mar Mikhael, Beirut, Lebanon.

Discover the ten best cocktails in Beirut (and where to drink them)

 

Picture by George Dipin

Doha • Qatar

Try: Karak coffee at Chapati & Karak

A national obsession, karak is what happens when Indian chai meets sweet, cardamom-flavoured condensed milk, and proceeds to take over an Arabic country. With its multicultural roots, there’s no wonder it’s the must-try beverage in a city that’s (conservatively) 80 per cent expat. Plus, in true Qatar style, they’ll bring it right to your car without you ever having to leave your air-conditioned haven.

Qatar’s officially a dry country, and despite the heat, tea and coffee drinking is a big part of the Arabic tradition of hospitality. And while you can find flashy pubs and exotic mixed drinks (may we suggest the pink grapefruit mohitos at Wahm at the W Doha Hotel & Residences, where the chichi head to get expensively sloshed in the outdoor cabanas on Thursday nights), there’s something charmingly authentic about Chapati & Karak.

Although it’s part of the Katara Cultural Village, a modern facsimile of an old Qatari settlement, this kerbside spot keeps it real. There are a few scattered picnic tables outside, but for the full experience you pull up in your car and honk. Paper-hatted waiters will appear and will serve you – what else? – chapati and karak for just slightly more than the price of a bottle of water. You can get out of your car and stroll along the waterfront while sipping the sweet concoction, but hang out near the parking lot and you’ll spot Qataris cruising up and down in their flash cars.

Many drinks could be nominated as ‘the taste of the city’: from lemon mint, a combination of fresh squeezed lemon juice and fresh mint, to the bullfrog, a potent mix of tequila, gin, rum, vodka, blue Curacao and Red Bull (an expat rite of passage that’s best drunk at a beach party). But while Qatar, like many Gulf countries, has a reputation for its luxurious excess, the real Doha experience is a simple cup of tea, while gentle sea breezes waft off the Arabian Gulf. And ostentatious automobiles rev their engines in the background. Jessica Davey-Quantick, former editor, Time Out Doha

West Bay, Doha, Qatar. +974 4408 1408.

Discover more places to drink in Doha

 

Dubai • UAE

Try: a ‘Titan Martini’ at Neos

Dubai is a city known for glitz, glamour, class – and the tallest building in the world – all of which are found at Neos. An exclusive cocktail lounge on the 63rd floor, it offers the best views in town of that true titan in world architecture, the Burj Khalifa.

It takes three elevators to reach Neos, the classy cocktail bar that sits at the dizzying top of The Address Downtown Dubai, the fifth tallest hotel in Dubai (and sixth in the world). There’s not a better place to take in the city’s glittering skyline: Sitting proudly opposite the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and with the Dubai Fountains (yes, the largest in the world) swishing way down below, you could lose hours absorbing the melodrama of the city’s assembled skyscrapers (it’s worth noting the cover of Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’ adorns the walls). If pushed, we’d say it’s a view that never gets old.

But there’s more to Neos than its vantage. Namely, the drinks. The bar hosts some of the hottest bartenders in town, and there are some daring creations on the list. For ambition and scale to match the view, we’d recommend Neos’s ‘Titan Martini’, a potent mix of Ketel One vodka, Laurent-Perrier Brut NV, mint, lime and agave syrup.

In a city known for tasteless opulence, for lining every surface in sight with Swarovski crystals and leaked bar receipts bigger than the GDP of some nations, Neos has an understated charm. With smooth, dark furnishings, slick service and a house pianist the right side of mellow, Neos is a must for all residents and tourists alike. Robert Garratt, Nightlife & Music editor, Time Out Dubai

Neos Level 63, The Address Downtown Dubai, Dubai. +971 (0)4 436 7700.

Discover Dubai’s top ten bars with a view

 

Picture by George Dipin

Manama • Bahrain

Try: Tea at Ahmed Abdul Rahim’s Traditional Coffee Shop

It’s very definitely not all dry here in the Middle East, you can find plenty of bars and nightclubs serving the full range of international bevvies and cocktails but if you want a taste of the ‘real’ old Bahrain head down to the souq where you’ll find one of the island’s oldest tea shops.

Ahmed Abdul Rahim’s Traditional Coffee Shop (yes, it’s called a coffee shop but we’re guessing it got lost in translation) is the place to spot old, and some young, Arab men, in traditional dress, whiling away the hours with tiny glass cups of hot sweet tea.

It’s a great place to sample the local food too – plates of spicy beans and chickpeas – and, if you go early evening, you might just get drawn into a game of backgammon as the tables outside on the pavement fill up and the place comes alive.

Ahmed Abdul Rahim’s shop is open 24 hours a day and always busy – we reckon you’ll not find a better place for a liquid taste of the authentic Bahrain. But make sure you ask before taking pictures; the staff are fine but some of the customers, not so much. And sorry we can’t give you a phone number – it doesn’t have one! Liz O’Reilly, editor, Time Out Bahrain

Ahmed Abdul Rahim’s Traditional Coffee Shop, Government Avenue Souq, Manama, Bahrain

Discover more places to drink in Bahrain

 

Tel Aviv • Israel

Try: a Manhattan at Lucifer

Tel Aviv drinkers are serious drinkers. And you can’t get much more serious than a bar called Lucifer. The atmosphere is aimed at diabolical fun but the drinks are heaven – especially the reinforced Manhattans, served with a devilish smile…

Every time you step inside Lucifer Bar in Tel Aviv, you feel you’re making some kind of unwise Faustian pact. At first glimpse, the place seems fairly ordinary, but there’s something about it that makes you want to act bad. Maybe it’s the music (which might hop between, for example, Black Grape, Television and LCD Soundsystem). Maybe it’s the crowd, which is always a nice mixture of journalists, artists and musicians turning to drink. Maybe it’s the food, which surprises you with its spiciness; the hot bartender who buys you a shot each time you buy one for yourself and never lets you leave on steady feet; or the CCTV monitor, which you can’t help staring at as it relays what’s going on the street outside.

But what to drink? At Lucifer Bar, it has to be their Manhattan. The red vermouth and the bitters are traditional, but the plot thickens with the whiskey and bourbon – the default choice is Jim Beam Black Label. The fact that it usually comes in double portions doesn’t hurt either (until the following day).

So, on reflection, maybe that feeling of dark supernatural forces at work comes from the fact that all your memories from Lucifer are distant fragments, as if they’ve never really happened – all you really know is that you want to live them again. Niv Hadas, deputy editor, Time Out Tel Aviv

Lucifer, 97 Allenby Street, Tel Aviv, Israel. +972 (0)3 685 1666.

Discover the best bars, clubs and more – in Time Out Israel’s digital edition

 


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