DUBLING DOWN IN DUBAI
by Lev Raslin
Try asking for a bump to business class on your Emirates flight to Dubai. Fourteen hour flight, ten empty seats! How can anyone be so cruel to deny it, right? You were polite! You asked nicely! Regardless, its pay up or languish in Economy with the rest of the plebs. It’s a pay to play world in Dubai. Three days it would appear is plenty of time to get enamored, and then fall out of love, with the Arab world’s gilded city.
Dubai is considered one of the most liberal cities, if not the most liberal, in any Gulf country. It is also the most ornately developed. Despite dogmatic rules like train cars designated for women only and no gum chewing at public transportation stops or in vehicles, the metropolis otherwise runs on glitz, hedonism, and commercial excess. Boasting among other feats man–made islands in the shape of palms and the world’s tallest building–Dubai epitomizes the Texan mantra of ‘bigger is always better’ sprinkled with the flashiness of Las Vegas and Miami.
Around 85% of the city’s population are expats, with a massive break between the upper and lower classes. Foreign laborers hail mostly India, Bangladesh, Singapore and the Philippines. Most publicly displayed restaurants are American quick-serve franchises (think Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Papa John’s, etc.). Local attractions are glamorous hotels and malls and whose main goal is to impress but, nonetheless, would generally be devoid of any regional context or significance. For instance, one such mall features an indoor ski resort that is kept at a chilly 28 degrees Fahrenheit, while it drops to a cool 88 degrees Fahrenheit outside at night, during the winter time.
Notwithstanding its eccentricities, there is much to appreciate and enjoy. I had an incredible time staying at the Armani Hotel Dubai, housed in the world’s tallest building, the Burj Al Khalifa whose top floor sits 1918 feet off the ground. (The World Trade Center tops out at 1776 ft.)
We were also fortunate to befriend a fantastic concierge, Praneet Verma, who has earned outstanding reviews both on the hotel’s website as well as Travelocity. Praneet was our skeleton key to the hotel. His explanation, that the intoxicatingly-repulsive-yet-alluring-scent that permeated all of the hotel was “somewhere from France,” was pure hilarity. He also deftly secured for us special reservations: a booth at At.mosphere, the world’s tallest bar on the 123rd floor of the Burj Khalifa, and subsequently a table for dinner at Hashi, a world class Japanese restaurant with unrestricted views of The Dubai Fountain.
At.mosphere is as luxurious as it sounds. A single elevator launches guests with reservations from the lobby straight to the 123rd floor. Stepping onto the elevator feels like you have made something of yourself in this world. Reading the menu feels even better. Exquisitely prepared cocktails, an assortment of cigars straight from Cuba, and black caviar (probably) from the Caspian Sea are among the most memorable items.