Colin Nagy | April 28, 2023

Why is Dubai interesting?

On growth, execution, and luxury

Recommended Products

The Park Hyatt Dubai

The Park Hyatt Dubai recently built out their Padel courts to a world-class level, attracting famous tennis pros.

Matcha Club Dubai
Matcha Club Dubai

A Padel club concept called Matcha that is exceptionally well executed.

Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie
Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie

A patisserie called Yann Couvreur in Dubai Mall near the Fashion Avenue entrance offers exceptional pastries.

Comptoir 102
Comptoir 102

Comptoir in Jumeirah is a healthy lunch spot plus a design concept store.

Arabian Tea House: Authentic Arabic & Emirati Cuisine in Dubai
Arabian Tea House: Authentic Arabic & Emirati Cuisine in Dubai

A local favorite with teas and great Emirati food, showcasing a nice cultural side of old Dubai.

Colin here. It seems that in times of geopolitical instability, Dubai does pretty well. The city handled COVID in an adept fashion—keeping a lot of businesses open—and was smart in striking the balance between safety and keeping the doors open for tourism. As a result, well-heeled investors and motivated young professionals in locked-down cities made a beeline for the city, buying residences, starting businesses, and setting up a new home base. The city has a vibrant “hub” energy that I used to feel in places like Hong Kong, and is almost absurdly diverse: everyone is from somewhere else. And this makes for an interesting vibe and cultural energy at the moment. 

Earlier tropes about Dubai were that it was just a vacant ex-pat hub, or a scorching hot, hyper lux city in the desert, not unlike the Vegas of the Middle East. As the city develops and grows, it is becoming much more interesting and warrants a revisit from those who have visited or lived here in the past. There are new restaurants that stand up to the best of London or New York. The hotel scene is vibrant, with major players like Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons putting forward the best versions of their brands and service. And there’s actual culture happening, often propelled by an interesting melange of Middle Eastern hospitality, entrepreneurial hustle, and the feeling that you aren’t constrained by other legacy shackles. It is a place where, I would imagine, someone landing in California in the 90s might have felt. 

And underpinning all of these things are two important things: safety and organization. You can leave your phone on the table as you go to a cafe and not worry about it. You can walk around at night without getting ambushed for your wristwatch. When you land at the airport at any time of night, you will generally get through immigration quickly, into a car, and onto a well functioning motorway. The city just works. And though it is starting to see some of the traffic and congestion of other global cities, the other elements compensate. 

Then there is the light. There is something magical about the light in the Middle East. The all-encompassing, beautiful light looks different here in other places. And if you’re around from say, September to April, the weather is perfect. It does get absurdly hot in the summer months, but the city is designed with places and spaces where you don’t have to be outside. And many residents try to go somewhere else to escape the humidity from the Gulf. 

Dubai also has a nice balance: you can find hedonism and parties, often centered around restaurants and hotels. But it is also family friendly, with access to nature and sports. And lest the creative class moans about mall monoculture, there is a warehouse district with interesting galleries and indie theaters, countless coffee shops that rival most global coffee scenes, as well as new concepts popping up that I haven’t found anywhere else. 

Some waypoints that I find myself returning to, which is by no means an exhaustive list. 

Dubai Creek is the OG area in Dubai, and feels like a green haven in the city. The Park Hyatt Dubai recently built out their Padel courts to a world-class level and certain famous tennis pros can be seen competing in the sport in the evening. 

The Mandarin Oriental in Jumeirah has a lounge called Noor which feels like the living room of Jumeirah. It has impeccable coffee and great people-watching in one of the best lobbies in the city. Its Portuguese restaurant with a view of the sea is also standout. 

Al Quoz is a more polished Bushwick: a former industrial area converted into lots of galleries, workout spots, and also Cinema Akil. There is also a Padel club concept called Matcha that is exceptionally well executed. 

Roads will inevitably lead to Dubai Mall, and near the Fashion Avenue entrance, there is a new patisserie called Yann Couvreur that has exceptional pastries and incredible people watching: the aforementioned diversity is on display with everyone to immaculately dressed Emirati women in perfect shoes and handbags to tourists from around the world in various types of national dress, from dishdashas to flip flops. 

Comptoir in Jumeirah is a healthy lunch spot plus a design concept store. 

The Arabian Tea House Café shows a nice cultural side of old Dubai. It is a local favorite with teas and great Emirati food.

Penrose in the Four Seasons DIFC is one of my favorite rooms for meetings and hellos: the light is perfect, there is a pitch-perfect view of the Burj Khalifa, and also service is impeccable. Worth a stroll through the neighboring Gate developments and the lunchtime restaurant scene. 

Now that I have disclosed my obvious hotel and Padel biases, it is worth building your own favorites in a place that feels more dynamic now than ever before. And it is a wonderful gateway to other destinations in the region (you have to go to Oman) or farther afield like Africa. Happy travels. (CJN

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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