Doha’s Dawn

7 Apr

Mention Dubai or (perhaps less so) Abu Dhabi and what’s likely conjured up in the mind of your listener are images of Persian Gulf states with excess wealth on display: glitzy skyscrapers, lavish hotels, manmade islands far beyond fathom, etc. Even if you’ve never been there, you’ve more than likely been regaled with fantastical tales of their extravagances (hello! Burj Khalifa).

In comes Doha, the largest city and capital of the Gulf state (which is also a sovereign nation), Qatar. Now, stateside, at least, it’s perhaps not a household name (not quite yet anyway) and, as such, you’re likely to evoke quizzical looks from your audience when it’s uttered. To be fair, it isn’t the most conspicuous to locate on a map; it’s literally a tiny protrusion along the larger Arabian peninsula. If you blink, you just might miss it. Small in area, however, it is quite massive in ambition.

I myself only recently, relatively speaking, perked up to Qatar. For one, seeing their flagship carrier, Qatar Airways (offering daily nonstop flights to Doha), at JFK, then the announcement that Doha will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup (not that I’m an avid follower of the sport per se), press coverage around last year’s DTFF, (Doha Tribeca Film Festival), and uber-hip hotel chain, W Hotels, adding a property to their roster there, W Doha Hotel and Residences. Naturally, I was intrigued.

I’m in a taxi headed into town from Doha International Airport, just on the fringe of the city’s core—which is roughly about 20 mins to West Bay (Doha’s commercial district). As we navigate our way through Al Corniche (a picturesque bayside drive that winds through the banks of the Gulf), what’s immediately noticeable is a skyline of imposing glitzy skyscrapers that dot the area. The architecture–perhaps not entirely surprising as one’s come to expect with rapidly developing cities in the area-is ultramodern, almost futuristic in fact, with several more projects underway.

I check in to W Doha Hotel & Residences, one of the towers in this section of town which in addition to being Doha’s commercial center or downtown of sorts, has seen a surge of new luxury hotels spring up (with fellow sister hotel, St. Regis Doha, celebrating its grand opening just last month, March). My choice for accommodation, W, for familiarity, of course, but also out of curiosity as it’s ranked one of the top in the city. Not to mention, in addition, the hotel boats two signature Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurants, Spice Market (New York, Atlanta) and Market (Vancouver, Boston). As a fan of Jean-Georges’, it was a no brainer. Other nearby choices, The Kempinski Residences & Suites (right next door), and further afield, The Four Seasons (which is said to spot some of the best bay views in the area).

My itinerary is mapped out for the next few days though I’m beginning to feel like I may just make this an R&R trip. There’s a sense of calm here which makes you just want to go with the flow. Yes, you can indeed do lots of that and being at the W makes it very easy to lay poolside, order cocktails, then head on over to W Cafe for afternoon tea. I do indulge but eventually make my way out.

Taking the path along the bay, Al Corniche, I make my way to Souq Waqif, a leisure stroll that’ll take roughly 40 mins, if you’re up to it. Alternatively you may just hail a taxi which is quite relatively inexpensive. You get the best views of the bay, however, by walking the pedestrian-friendly path along Al Corniche.

Souq Waqif, akin to bazaars you’re likely to find in Marrakech or Istanbul but, admittedly, with not as much personality (I do prefer a little bit more of a bustle), is a great place to spend the afternoon. There are some bargains to be had there. It’s also a great place to grab a bite to eat. You’ll find a mélange of restaurants serving regional fare along the main strip of the souq, Al Souq. Try Al Adhamiyah Iraqi Restaurant for scrumptious Iraqi/Arabic fare. It’s fantastic for lunch or dinner. The Souq is quite bustling at night, so perhaps you may want to save your visit till later in the evening. Alternatively, Tajine, on the same strip, Al Souq St., is a decent choice. The eateries are plenty along this main thoroughfare, so not to worry, you’ll have plenty of choices to choose from. If you aren’t completely exhausted from the day’s activities, pop by the spaceship looking Museum of Islamic Art which is relatively close by. A word of caution, however, make sure you call ahead to ensure they’re open. Hours of operation are posted on their website but I would advise calling or having your hotel call ahead to ascertain. I hadn’t taken this precaution and ended up having to be turned around because it was closed when I tried to visit.

Ensuing days are spent sampling more regional fare. Al Mourjan  on the Al Corniche is somewhat of a decent choice; though don’t be alarmed though when you see inauthentic menu offerings like burgers listed. The Lebanese choices are quite good and the restaurant’s ambience is warm and inviting. The wait staff is quite charming and friendly as well. Grab a table on the outside deck for spectacular views of the city’s skyline. As previously intimated, for variety, most of the restaurants in Souq Waqif are good choices for dinner as well.

For pre/post dinner cocktails, check out Wahm (W Hotel) or The Lounge at Kempinski next door. Remain at either one of these locations (as they’re open late) or migrate on over to Crystal Lounge where the revelry goes on till the wee hours. A word of caution: make sure you have your passport (the only accepted form of ID) handy if you’re going out to any of the late night clubs, especially if you’re not staying at the particular hotel the club may be located in.

To pump up the volume just a tad more (hey, you’re in the Persian Gulf, why not; just make sure the AMEX is handy), head on over to The Pearl; an artificial island just off the coast. Featuring a Riviera-style atmosphere—yachts of varying degrees blanketing the Arabian waters—the standard here is sheer opulence. And foreign nationals are starting to take notice. I remember my taxi driver proudly saying to me: “Janet Jackson just bought a place there!” Well, we may not all have a bank account nearly as sizeable as Janet’s but we can still dream and, importantly, indulge if only temporarily. While at Pearl, snag a table at Mexican born Restaurateur, Richard Sandoval’s New York City outpost, Pampano, where coastal Mexican selections dominate the menu. Gordon Ramsay’s Maze (The London NYC) has also taken up residence at The Pearl, in addition to some other recognizable names, so choices are plentiful. You’d be hard pressed to find regional cuisine at The Pearl; most of the choices are non-Arabic, so be mindful

It’s a fascinating place that sure has a lot of ambition and I’d say very soon—if not so already—it’ll be synonymous with already established names in the region. Check it out now. It’s still got a certain cache to it – that is of course before hordes begin to pour in.

One Response to “Doha’s Dawn”

  1. Celia Norris June 9, 2015 at 2:29 am #

    Pearl Qatar is one of the beautiful places which i visited in my travel. Thanks for sharing this article. Really interesting to read.

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