Hi there - I'm Courtney, an American expat behind the blog A to Za'atar, which seeks out unique culinary and hospitality experiences in the UAE and beyond. I'm currently living in Dubai and have lived in the GCC since 2007 (including stays in Doha and Abu Dhabi). When I am not working on my novel, I enjoy visiting new destinations and sabering champagne.
Trader Vic's and I (especially the location on Sheikh Zayed Road), have a love affair that goes back to 2007. In fact, some of my best nights in the Middle East have taken place at this infamous tiki bar. As a place to kick back after work, it was a great place to get to know some of my new colleagues and blow off steam. So, it was with great pleasure I accepted an invitation.
For those not in the know, this Trader Vic's is one of those rare old school Dubai gems that are getting increasingly difficult to find in the city. In case you've missed out on a visit, the venue is separated into both a lounge and more formal dining room. Walking in, guests are removed from a conventional restaurant atmosphere, and step into a more exotic location, made entertaining by decorative nautical touches throughout the restaurant. Whether it's the iconic menus or the small maritime elements on the china, this is a place unlike any other. The lounge is also home to a band who plays live music, focusing on upbeat Latin standards and other songs to get toes tapping. As a huge fan of this style of music -- I may or may not be a novice salsero -- I only wish the dance floor was bigger!
Starting our evening before the band arrived, we listened to a well-curated selection of music in the interim. Deciding to enjoy some dishes off the Bar Bites menu (which includes traditional 'pupus' -- that is, small meat and seafood appetizers), we first looked over the extensive cocktail list. While we debated sharing one of the drinks made for two (including the always popular Rum Keg), in the end, I selected my Mai Tai (AED55), while Hubs chose his usual, the Tiki Puka Puka (AED60), as we're strangely traditional at Trader Vic's. Flavourful and potent as ever, the drinks were presented quickly and just as I always remember them. Having visited the Trader Vic's in Beverly Hills over a decade ago, I have many fond memories in nights involving this particular drink. However, I fully support that everyone has their specific favourite cocktail here. :)
In reviewing the menu (which offers a fairly expansive selection of appetizers), we decide on the Crispy Prawns (AED74), Crab Rangoon (AED62), Spicy Tuna Tartare (AED68) and well, French Fries (which, to be fair, come on their own special plate, complete with a candle underneath to keep them warm). The selections come with a variety of sauces, including a house made Trader Vic's special, which has a perfect hint of cinnamon. As calories were clearly not being counted, I had thought we would have room to try other things off the menu, but these dishes were too filling! My favourite (and the one I couldn’t stop eating) was the Crab Rangoon, which was perfectly crispy, with a creamy, crabby centre (and so, so moreish!). I also thought the Tartare was very creatively presented, arriving on a crispy piece of nori.
Yummy food and unique drinks aside, what I like best about this property is that is completely unpretentious. In the time we were there, we saw a variety of visitors -- out of town tourists, a date night, and more than a few groups of friends. If you want a place to people watch, I think this is one of the best places to in the city. Be sure to arrive early -- given the popularity, seats are very much at a premium in the lounge.
For a final suggestion, I think you could start your night at Trader Vic's and either try one of the other venues at the Crowne Plaza for dinner or have a wee wander on Sheikh Zayed Road. You could put together a progressive meal without ever having to get in a car or taxi.
One thing worth mentioning, for those who have any sensitivities breathing or who are bothered by smoke, Trader Vic's is a place where people smoke frequently.
Trader Vic's is located on the third floor of the Crowne Plaza, Sheikh Zayed Road and opens daily at 6PM. Reservations can be made calling 04 449 8562 and are recommended, especially on the weekends.
I was a guest of Trader Vic's and Crowne Plaza, Sheikh Zayed Road. Opinions are my own, just ask my husband.