Muscat has far more licensed pubs, bars and restaurants than anywhere else in Oman, mainly (but not exclusively) found in hotels. There are three main options: the swanky bars found in the city’s upmarket hotels; the somewhat more downmarket English-style pubs, also found in most mid- and upper-range hotels; and the raucous live-music bars with live Arabian or Indian stage shows. Nowhere is drinking cheap, however, and the city’s fancier bars, although undoubtedly alluring, can empty your wallet very quickly.
Hanging out over a freshly pressed juice or a cup of coffee in one of the city’s local cafés offers a far cheaper and more typically Omani experience – the coffee shops in and around Muttrah Souk and along the nearby corniche are particularly attractive places to shoot the breeze and watch the world go by. It’s also worth heading to somewhere like Al Candle Café or Kargeen after dark and chilling out over a shisha and a cup of Turkish coffee. For a more upmarket variation on the same theme, afternoon tea in either the Grand Hyatt or Al Bustan are both enjoyable.
Nightlife in Muscat is a pretty low-key affair – it can often seem like the city’s two most popular after-dark activities are driving at maniac speeds up and down Sultan Qaboos Street or piling into the nearest Lulu hypermarket for late-night shopping. Western expat and tourist nightlife tends to focus around drinking in one of the city’s bars or pubs. Listings of forthcoming events are also hard to come by – have a look at the “Oman Nightlife” group on Facebook or check out wwww.muscatmutterings.com.
Quite a few of the city’s pubs have live music most nights, ranging from the accomplished international cover bands (or occasional jazz acts) which play the city’s five-star drinking joints through to the gyrating Filipina chanteuses who can be heard murdering classic tunes in the city’s more downmarket pubs. For a quintessential slice of Omani nightlife, head to one of the live-music bars found in some of the city’s mid-range hotels (such as the Marina in Muttrah, or the Mutrah and Ruwi hotels in Ruwi). The nearest you’ll get to a genuine club is either the Copacabana at the Grand Hyatt or the Rock Bottom Café – the only two places in the city which currently have a “dancing permit”, without which the Omani authorities forbid any form of disco activity.
Big-name international music acts (although think Tom Jones and Bryan Adams rather than Shakira and Dizzee Rascal) occasionally pass through the city, during which the gardens at the InterContinental hotel are pressed into service as an impromptu concert arena.
More upmarket forms of cultural entertainment are virtually nonexistent at present, although this may change following the opening of the city’s new Royal Opera House (wwww.rohmuscat.org), next to Sultan Qaboos Street in Qurum (currently scheduled to open in mid-2011). This will provide the city with a much-needed large-scale performance space – expect a mix of classical music, jazz, dance and Arabian cultural events, plus visiting opera productions.