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A pleasant stroll through The Village, Dubai-style

If you were to stop at each restaurant, bar or hotel along the way, a week would not be enough

The palm trees providing shade among the modern buildings are the only hint of this being a 'village' in Dubai Dubai Tourism
The palm trees providing shade among the modern buildings are the only hint of this being a 'village' in Dubai

“A collection of dwelling-houses and other buildings, forming a centre of habitation in a country district; an inhabited place larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town,” is how the Oxford English Dictionary quaintly defines a village.

The Gate Village in Dubai International Financial Centre squarely contradicts every aspect of that definition.

There must be some residential property in the vicinity, but not a house in sight; the terms “hamlet” and “town” are meaningless in the sprawl of Dubai; and there is nothing rural about the UAE’s financial hub, apart from a few palm trees providing shade amid the glass and concrete.

The policymakers who laid out the masterplan for the DIFC more than two decades ago understood that an aspirational financial hub needs more than just a stock exchange and a few banks to achieve global status.

Like the great money magnets of New York, London and Tokyo, it also needs a social, cultural and recreational hinterland in order to thrive. Dubai’s Gate Village does that with panache.

The DIFC’s recreational offering amounts to more than just the few thousand square metres between the Gate complex and Al Mustaqbal Street that comprise the Village, but that area is the epicentre, the ground zero of the DIFC’s swanky, glamorous and sometimes downright sybaritic social life.

I recently took a walk through the Village, from south to north. At normal walking pace, it takes you less than 10 minutes. But if you were to stop at each notable restaurant, bar or hotel along the way, a week would not be enough.

If, in addition, you detoured to the art galleries, the luxury goods stores and other up-market retail outlets, you could easily be there a month, and much the richer for the experience – though not in financial terms.

I doubt there is a greater concentration of sheer upmarket bling anywhere else in the world.

Start at Roberto’s on the southern edge of the Village. It’s still a great venue after more than a decade of business, despite the increased competition these days. Roberto’s is an Italian fine-dining establishment for lunchtime and dinner, but as the night wears on it turns into a lively fun-palace – much like the rest of the Village.

From there, stroll past the Four Seasons Hotel – a destination in its own right with stylish bars and restaurants – and some other good eateries such as Bolla, until you get to what I’d regard as the Village Square, Dubai style. No maypole or morris dancing here. 

Salt Bae, Avli, Mina and the incomparable La Petite Maison are all within staggering distance of each other. Outside the sweltering summer nights, this is the venue for probably the most glamorous passeggiata in the world, with designer-clad gents exchanging glances with slinkily dressed ladies of every nationality. It’s people-watching paradise.

If the would-be Master of the Universe wants a sports car, it’s there to buy in the Ares store; jewellery and upmarket flowers are available (at a price) in Damas and Maison des Fleurs; modernistic art at Opera Gallery and elsewhere.

After the venerable Capital Club on your left, you hit the next belt of gourmet outlets: Alaya, Cipriani, Marea, Bocca, Babylon and, of course, Zuma – probably the single biggest draw in the DIFC since it opened in 2008 and a great place to start your exploration of Village life.

Next comes Gaia, Dubai’s home-grown fine cuisine brand that is exploding around the world, as well as Sucre, Alma and Clap.

Like Roberto’s, all these restaurants turn into virtual nightclubs after 10pm, and most have select “lounge rooms” attached, in which the elite meet to greet each other and sample very expensive cocktails and wines.

An honourable mention must go to Socialista, the night club attached to Cipriani, which kept Dubai spirits high right through the dark days of the Covid lockdown. Bravo, comrades.

There are other places further north towards Emirates Towers, such as Amazonica and Atelier Robuchon, but I ended my stroll at Shanghai Me’s Bund lounge for a reception hosted by Fundamental Hospitality, the force behind many of the Village pleasure-domes.

Against the backdrop of 7,000-dirham bottles of tequila, Evgeny Kuzin, co-founder of Fundamental, talked enthusiastically about the group’s expansion plans, ahead of the imminent launch of one of the biggest beach clubs in the world on Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach. His financially oriented partner, Maxim Vlasov, was busy poring over the books elsewhere.

Strolling merrily homewards a while later, a wacky thought occurred: what the area really needs is a beach. Right smack bang in the middle of the DIFC. That would top off Village life.

I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody was already working on it.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He also acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia

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