Google “gay + Dubai” and you’re likely to come up with a few encouraging articles all touting the same handful of weekly parties, closely followed by a caveat about how you’re better off “knowing the right people and the right places.” The trouble is, the more these places get talked about, the less likely you are to find them when you go.
No surprise here: Dubai, similar to most Arab countries, is not exactly tolerant when it comes to gay rights (anyone remember the Toronto gay couple that were thrown in jail in 2009 for carrying arthritis medication? However, the one thing Dubai has going for it is a large community of expats and international travelers constantly circulating through the city. And within that group are plenty LGBT folks based in and around Dubai all looking to connect.
Here are a few places we discovered on a recent trip there this summer:
Fitness First is a regional fitness chain with several locations around Dubai and the Middle East, but the gym at Ibn Battuta Mall is where gays from all over town show up to tone their abs, try the bootcamp-style T.U.F.F. class, or just hang out in the plush, intimate Member’s Lounge. Yes, there’s a steam room.
Speaking of malls, we could hardly believe it ourselves, but Dubai Mall (aka the world’s largest shopping mall) is actually one of the city’s top gay cruising spots. Chalk it up to the crowds (it’s easier to blend in when everyone is rushing around trying to find their way to Aeropostale or the food court) or just the convenience of being able to simultaneously shop and hook up—either way, the man of your dreams might very well be just a short escalator ride away.
Provided you don’t make the same mistake we did and show up in Dubai in the middle of July (the word ‘hot’ doesn’t even begin to describe it), your afternoons are best spent sprawled out on one of Dubai’s idyllic white sandy beaches. As it happens, there’s a particular spot along the boardwalk at Jumeirah Beach Rd (near the Ritz-Carlton, as a matter of fact) where the gays like to gather. To reach it, simply locate the Starbucks, walk straight towards the water and make a left. You’ll be flirting with other like-minded locals faster than you can say “tan line.”
Another popular pick-up spot is the Pavilion Downtown Dubai Cafe, a sleek, modern space with long wooden tables and local art decorating the walls. The kitchen serves yummy Arabic mezze platters, wraps, salads and smoothies, and the adjoining art gallery, cinema, library, and sheesha lounge (all of which host frequent events) make it easy to strike up a conversation with cute, artsy types.
Meanwhile, when it comes to nightlife, the most accessible of Dubai’s gay parties is Submarine, a roaming weekly event that happens over at the Dhow Palace Hotel every Thursday night. We showed up around 1am and descended from the lobby to find a thumping club packed with boys from literally all over the world. (No offense to the blond Texan who kept bumping into us, but we didn’t exactly travel 7,000 miles to meet other Americans!) Another popular spot is Sublime, a sports bar inside the Ibis World Trade Centre Hotel.
Finally, no visit to Dubai is complete without experiencing one of the city’s infamous Friday brunches. These occur almost exclusively in hotels (with good reason—they’re the only places allowed to have liquor licenses), and we enjoyed a particularly lively meal at Irish Village, a sprawling outdoor venue at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel that’s designed like a (you guessed it!) traditional Irish pub. The scene can get a little rowdy, but you’re bound to make a few new friends—the sheer amount of alcohol consumed here is a conversation starter in itself.