Being honest, my expectations were pretty low of Dubai’s food and drink scene before my first trip to the United Arab Emirates (on behalf Fairmont). After all, you can only get a drink in the UAE at licensed hotels, restaurants, and bars that are attached to hotels. In other words, things like standalone cocktail lounges, speakeasies, and dives aren’t a thing. But then I walked into The Cigar Bar, and my expectations immediately went from low to exceeded.
The Cigar Bar, located inside Fairmont The Palm, felt a bit like walking into what I call a library bar, which I’ve found most frequently in cities like Los Angeles and New York. In both selection and design, they feel like a rustic library, and somewhere you’d imagine Ron Burgundy having a drink. The appropriately named Library Bar in Los Angeles and Union Hall in Brooklyn immediately come to mind.
The Cigar Bar had much of that same feel, characterized by plush leather sofas, cases filled with cigars, and bar shelves lined with whiskies, some of which were older than many of you reading this. It was my version of heaven.
Luis Urrea, the bar’s manager greeted me as I walked in. And I soon found out that in addition to being the bar manager, Luis was also an award-winning cigar sommelier (yes, seriously), whiskey connoisseur, and expert maker of cocktails. That combination seems like the pinnacle of manhood.
Luis asked me what I typically first order when entering a bar. Anyone who knows me knows that that’s an Old Fashioned. And that’s what Luis proceeded to make me, and very carefully and artistically at that. He made it with Booker’s, which is on my top-10 list of bourbons, but has some serious heat to it (120-plus proof). And it was one of the best Old Fashioned cocktails I’ve had.
Next, it was onto a whiskey sour, which Luis made with egg white, and interestingly enough, The Macallan Scotch whisky. For many, such an act is blasphemy, using Scotch whisky, and especially Macallan Scotch, in a whiskey sour. And you know what? It was awesome. While you’re probably not going to take your best bottle of Scotch whisky and make it into a whisky sour cocktail anytime soon, it made for a much more complex whisky sour.
But what’s a visit to a whiskey bar (more than 80 different whiskies all told) without doing a whiskey tasting? And this was a serious whiskey bar. That’s because The Cigar Bar at Dubai’s Fairmont The Palm has one of the best whiskey selections in all of the UAE, including bottles of The Macallan, which you won’t find anywhere else in the Middle East. However, the standouts were the whiskies that I’m not even likely to find in great whiskey bars in America, such as Australian and Indian whiskies. That’s right, they make whiskies (and damn good whiskies at that) in India and Australia.
My particular whisk(e)y flight included three whiskies, a Scotch, Australian, and Indian whisky. The highlight, hands down, was Sullivans Cove Whisky, a whisky hailing from Tasmania, which has become the craft spirits destination in Australia. What’s more is that Sullivans Cove Whisky is one of the top whiskey producers in the world. Yes, the world. In 2014, their Sullivans Cove French Oak single malt was awarded Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whisky Awards, and in 2015, they were named Craft Whisky Producer of the Year. Their whiskies are that good.
After a couple cocktails and such an impressive whiskey flight, thank goodness I was following my visit to The Cigar Room with a hearty dinner at Frevo, a churrascaria-style restaurant inside Fairmont the Palm overlooking Dubai.
Yet I’d be remiss to talk about The Cigar Bar and not talk about its cigars. This is a proper cigar lounge after all. While many cigar bars in Dubai may be nothing more than a bar with a selection of cigars, this is an actual cigar bar, featuring a walk-in humidor, private handcrafted cigar lockers, invite-only cigar events, and of course, a cigar sommelier, which guests have in Luis. The Cigar Bar boasts a number of different cigar brands, including a selection of limited edition cigars.
Needless to say, The Cigar Bar was a proper whiskey bar, and a serious man cave. That’s not something you can find just anywhere in Dubai. Now, where to find some of those fine single malts I tried.