The Strange Paradox That Is Drinking in Dubai

Dubai is notorious for its paradoxical drinking culture, which is equal parts prohibitionist and over-the-top.

Andrew Madigan on his year spent working as a Guinness taste-tester in the city’s bars and clubs.

From 2002 to 2003 I was Guinness taste-tester in Dubai. My official title was Stout Evaluative Engineer (SEE). I’m not even sure if it was a real title. We’ll come back to this.

On any given night in Dubai there are thousands of people—Muslim and non-Muslim—crowding the city’s bars, which are as diverse and specialized as they are in the West. The police generally turn a blind eye to public drunkenness and flamboyant revelry, though occasionally a gay bar will be shut down (homosexuality is prohibited) or arrests will be made for sex on the beach (the act, not the drink). Like most nations, the UAE wears two faces—one that wants to appease the devout and sanctimonious and another that wants to lure tourists with luxury, entertainment and a permissive atmosphere. This contradiction is evident in everything from prostitution—which is illegal but rampant—to the banking industry.