We found what must surely be the only Jamaican bar in the Middle East. Ting Irie is in a Souk attached to the Manzil Hotel in downtown Dubai. Although the restaurant is the real ting, the Souk is not. It is built as a 30-store extension to the hotel in order to create more licensed space. Here, only hotels can sell alcohol and so the land staked for hospitality continues to grow. 90 massive hotels will be built this year. That’s a lot of cocktails. Tourists and shoppers and skilled workers come here for the sun, the brand names, and the tax-free earnings, but not to embrace Islam culture. We want a drink with everything. The Sheikhs seem unperturbed by this: they know the value of giving the customer what she wants.
The Ting Irie is decorated like a Caribbean beach shack with Rasta colors everywhere. The waiters– cute as conch-shell buttons– are the real Jamaican article, flown in with the akee, salt fish and plantains. The music– modern reggae– was excellent.
We were there on Monday for Happy Hour and went back yesterday evening for Ladies Night.
Brunch (we’re booked for Friday at the Taj hotel), Happy Hour and Ladies nights are a big feature of visitor and ex-pat life in Dubai. This is how it works: drinks on regular menus are priced astronomically high. It therefore feels like a bargain to get them half price (roughly $12 for a cocktail and $10 for a glass of wine) and so we flock to bars by 6pm to snap up and slurp down the “bargains”. Anyone drinking after 8pm is either already too drunk or too rich to mind their wallet– or they are there for Ladies Night. Ladies Night involves dressing up to the nines (you’ll need your hair and nails done too–more outlay). You then commit to a package of food and drink. The Ting Irie asks for $25 each in return for two courses–chicken jerked and barbecued and fried, shrimp with plantain, rice and peas, oxtail—and limitless drinks from their Ladies Night selection. I had frozen concoctions of rose wine, rose syrup and lemon. The girls had whiskey with Malibu and– oh I don’t know, something, or perhaps some Ting. Given their fragile state this morning, mine was the better choice, but I suppose a bucketful of anything will do you harm– unfair to blame the composition when the villain is really the volume.
Dubai understands both deals and veiling and so the Ladies Nights offer the veneer of value, rather than actual value. Portions are small and drinks are no-one’s first choice but still they bring out the women in their crowds. Men get some kind of a deal too– it is a cost-effective way of wining and dining a date, and as Ladies Nights progress, packs of men are happy to pay for their own beer at full price for the opportunity to mingle with women whose judgment is impaired.
Brunch is the same sort of deal but involves a buffet and takes place from 1pm-4pm on a Friday. Beach and pool access can be involved, plus special offers on massage or beauty treatments. This is how incomers spend the Islamic holy day.
It is of course possible to set a budget for your vacation in Dubai. It is NOT possible to stick to it. You will turn up for an evening event advertised on your Happy Hour app and discover the club has been replaced with an Asian Fusion Karaoke Bar with no specials that evening. It will feel like too much trouble to cross town by taxi (prices are good but traffic is terrible) to reach the next place on your list and so, before you know it, you are shelling out for full-price Mai Tais and treating a clan of Glaswegian construction workers to your version of the Top of The World (the Carpenters). This really happened. I am worried my daughter may have video. Now, where’s the nearest cash machine?