Like pretty much everywhere else in the Gulf, Dubai only really gets going in the cooler evening and night-time hours. As dusk falls, the streets light up in a blaze of neon and the pavements begin to fill up with a cosmopolitan crowd of Emiratis, Arabs, Westerners, Indians and Filipinos. The city’s vibrant nightlife takes many forms. Western expats and tourists tend to make for the city’s restaurants, bars and clubs, while locals and expat Arabs can be found relaxing in the city’s myriad shisha cafés. Souks and shopping malls across the city fill up with crowds of consumers from all walks of Dubai society – most remain remarkably busy right up to when they close around midnight; bars and clubs meanwhile kick on until the small hours.
Dubai has a reasonably busy clubbing scene, driven by a mix of Western expats and tourists along with the city’s large expat Arab (particularly Lebanese) community. Music tends to be a fairly mainstream selection of house, hip-hop and r’n’b (perhaps with a splash of Arabic pop), although a healthy number of visiting international DJs help keep things fresh. The emphasis at more upmarket places still tends to be on posing and pouting – expect to see lots of beautiful young things from Beirut or Bombay quaffing champagne and inspecting their make-up – although there’s more fashion-free and egalitarian clubbing to be had at places like Zinc and N’dulge.
In terms of more cultural diversions, there’s significantly less on offer. Dubai is widely derided as the city that culture forgot – and in many ways the stereotype is richly deserved. The city has five-star hotels, luxury spas, celebrity chefs and shopping malls aplenty, but only lacked even a single proper theatre (and a poor one at that). Even now, the city’s musical life is largely limited to Filipino cover bands and the occasional big-name visiting rock act.
Things are, however, changing – albeit slowly. Dubai now hosts a decent range of cultural festivals, including good film and jazz events, while the emergence of alternative venues like The Fridge and DUCTAC suggests that even Dubai is finally realizing the size of the hole in its own head. In addition, the long-awaited opening of the new Dubai Opera House will hopefully provide a massive shot in the arm for the city’s moribund performing arts scene.
Where Dubai has scored a major success, however, is in establishing itself as the Gulf’s art capital, boasting a remarkable number of independent galleries, many set up by expats from around the Arab world and showcase a healthy spread of cutting-edge work by a range of international artists.