You'd think that Dubai wouldn't be a place that most hipsters would naturally be drawn to or be seen in. With all the glitz and glam, the emirate isn't precisely known for hosting alternative joints, urban and edgy venues or independent, soulful cafes. And although Dubai's hipster, trendy cafe scene is still in its early days, contrary to what many believe, it does exist and it's very much alive. Whilst it can't be compared (yet) to the likes of London and New York's ultra-cool hipster hubs, Dubai's trendy cafe scene has an easily identifiable young and hip clientele, spaces where millennial crowds love to hang out and where beards trimmed to perfection, light-coloured lenses in oversized (or mini-sized) sunglasses, military style boots and retro attire aren't a rare site.
While it still has some way to go, Dubai's nascent trendy cafe scene is a honeypot for hipsters and artsy urbanites and even those who don't quite fit into either category but still appreciate edgy, cool spaces and industrial themes or creative (often inventive) out of the ordinary cafes with a mismatch of styles.
Whether or not you consider yourself a hipster, a Bohemian or an artistic soul of any kind, or if you're simply seeking to escape the monotone, standard coffee shop setting of most Dubai's venues while forgoing the city's over-the-top elegance, pristine clean-cut design, and sometimes sterile style; this is the list for you. Here we introduce you to ten trendy cafe venues that are the polar opposites to everything flashy, shiny and pretty much soulless in Dubai.
For nibbling and socialising in style in Dubai these are the places to head to. From tasty tapas, gourmet bites featuring organic and locally-sourced ingredients to novel concoctions with unusual coffee, tea and smoothie blends, it all screams hip, cool and trendy.
I've split this top ten list into two to reflect two different categories of styles; from a retro cool, minimalistic urban and industrial theme to quirky, artsy and otherwise inspiring venues with outdoor spaces. There's something for all tastes.
Ten best trendy cafe venues (and hipster hotspots) in Dubai
For industrial-style chic, high ceilings, informal settings, long wooden tables (sometimes intercepted by comfy sofas) and open-plan studio-like spaces, these venues in Dubai are true hipster heaven.
Cafe Rider Custom Motorcycles
This is every classic motorcycle hipster's paradise. More than a coffee shop, this cool space is a meeting space for like-minded bike enthusiasts and a relaxing, mellow joint in which to unwind with a drink or two. While winding down and soaking up the fantastic atmosphere, motorcycle fans can peruse an onsite selection of bike memorabilia and merchandise as well.
Sink into the leather couches and enjoy delicious coffee made from quality freshly ground and roasted beans (they have an in-house roastery) and immerse into the world of vintage bikes while sipping what could easily be considered Dubai's best coffee (they officially promote Cafe Culture in the UAE). At Cafe Rider Custom Motorcycles creating custom-made bikes is what they are really all about and catering to a motorcycle-loving clientele is at the core of all they do. But, seriously coffee doesn't get any better than the one served here, exquisitely prepared by the cafe's award-winning barista.
TOM and SERG
Probably the most Instagrammed alternative eatery in Dubai, this all-day-dining venue and coffee shop is popular not just with hipsters and for a lot of good reasons. Appealing to anyone desiring a change of scene in glitzy Dubai and experiencing a real, honest, no-frills approach to quality food and drinks, this is the brainchild of an Australian and Spanish couple of expatriates who invested a lot of time and effort to create this extraordinary venue. Named after their owners and creators, Tom Arnel and Sergio Lopez, an Aussie and Spanish pair of friends and visionaries, TOM and SERG excels at providing a great chill-out space with industrial decor and fresh, wholesome bites to match. Its minimalistic approach to design and honest, real food make it an exceptional joint in which to enjoy authentic character and flavourful grub.
Beyond coffee, this is an excellent place for breakfast, lunches and brunches. This is a daytime pick-me-up venue with the kitchen closing at 3:45 p.m. on weekdays and 5:45 p.m. on weekends.
Wild and The Moon
An almost exact replica of the original in Paris (down to the cactus-shaped vases on tables, oversized Edison lightbulbs and real potted plants everywhere), Dubai has been the chosen city where this French alternative cuisine brand has first decided to expand (the only other Wild and The Moon existing at present is the original in France). So, you can count yourself lucky if eating out here during your Dubai holiday; after all, there's only two Wild and the Moon in the whole wide world (so far). With an industrial design and warehouse-style setting (it is actually set inside a warehouse, that's the only difference between this one and the Paris original) Dubai's Wild and Moon certainly appears to the cool and trendy hipster crowd, but especially to health-conscious diners seeking raw and environmentally-friendly food and drinks.
Just a glance at the dishes posted on Instagram tells you all that you need to know about this cafe. Everything looks so fresh, creatively prepared and appetising, you'll almost feel bad about eating and destroying the art. Ingredients are fresh and minimally processed, and by minimally I mean not at all in most cases, with the odd exception of cooked, baked or warmed treats and cold-pressed fruit, little else is done to what you eat. No refined sugar, no additives, no chemicals, no GMOs, no gluten, no soy and no dairy - all allergies are covered. Ingredients are ethically sourced and plant-based. This is wild food, wildly presented. They also sell some of their homemade concoctions (detox juices and smoothies) and packed food to take away and eat offsite. What more could you ask for?
The Surf Cafe
Despite what its name might indicate this place is not as "surfy" as you might expect. It definitely has a surf vibe and there are decor elements that make reference to the surfer lifestyle, but perhaps it looks a tad too squeaky clean and elegant to feel like a true surfer's hangout. Regardless, it is a cool bar/restaurant and a great chillout venue with a fabulously healthy and refreshing menu full of nutritious and delicious bites. With extensive sushi options, all-day breakfast menu, vegan specialities and all-day acai-based dishes. It promotes itself as "casual dining with a five-star touch" and indeed, foodwise it delivers.
Perfectly positioned on Jumeirah Beach Road, it's the great post-beach mellow-down restaurant. The menu is fresh and varied and top picks include Dim Sum nibbles, soba noodles, Japanese favourites, delicious tacos, salmon ceviches, calamari, juicy steaks and a selection of burgers. All the more special is their choose-your-own fish menu as well as the vast selection of fresh smoothies. Hop next door to find paddle and surf board rentals at Surf House Dubai and get the latest updates on the day's surfing conditions. Trendy? Check. Cool and casual? Double-check. The Surfer Cafe in Dubai truly is a hip surfer's hangout even if it doesn't look it at first.
The Sum of Us
I might have left this one until last but that shouldn't be taken to mean that it falls behind the rest in any imaginable way. This calm, cool and collected eatery is the brainchild of the same duo behind Tom and Serg and as such it has a similar atmosphere and ambiance but in a different location adjacent to the Dubai World Trade Centre. Attracting a mixed crowd of hip locals and expats, this bakery and roastery (with an ample selection of pastry, baked goods and roasted specialities) has a decidedly young and avant-garde vibe whilst also being simple and minimalistic. Where industrial meets city chic with the odd splash of colour,
This is the place to head to for gourmet coffees (they have their own onsite roastery), freshly baked goods and delicious savoury dishes. Customers can take their pick from scallops to pasta, lamb chops and burgers, creative salads and in-house filleted fish as well as a great selection of sandwiches. And everything, absolutely everything you see on the menu is made 100 percent from scratch. This is a self-declared artisan space, where creativity and innovation are the driving elements of all the great things cooked up in their kitchens. Visitors are encouraged to be inquisitive, ask questions and find out more about what's on their plate. As cool and hip as it gets nowadays.
And that wraps up my selection of Dubai's top 5 hipster cafes for those in love with the industrial style, warehouse-like open spaces and clean-cut minimalism. Now, the following five on my top ten list of prettiest, most atmospheric alternative eateries - a mix of styles where quirkiness and uniqueness set the bar.
Friends' Avenue Cafe
It ticks every box in the industrial feel atmosphere that hipsters and influencers seem to be drawn to these days but it has added quirkiness with playful touches that makes it stand out from the rest. The cafe does have the famous Edison lightbulbs that are so in vogue right now but some have a twist, they're encased within glass lamps. With a blend of differently coloured metal chairs, wooden-top tables, wooden seats and plush sofas, the place is definitely chic, and definitely hip. Plants hang from the ceiling an objects like a full-size bicycles (amid all manner of paraphernalia) adorn the brick walls. The feel is much more eclectic than at the five previously listed venues.
The food, like at all the other venues in this list prides itself on being fresh and wholesome. There's a great selection of salads, sandwiches, hearty bowls and pasta. The artful coffee is out of this world, as are the smoothies. And if you have doubts about its hip credentials just read its website's opening line: "YO! Welcome to Friends Avenue Cafe". Oh yeah, and as they like to say: Stay awesome!
The work of British celebrity chef Silvena Rowe, this outstanding cafe enjoys the most scenic location of all on this list given its position on the edge of the water at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour. One half of it is a magical indoor garden with a cascade of plants hanging from the ceiling and a combination of wicker chairs, comfy sofas, scattered tables and curious decorative items like a full-size grandpa clock. The other is a nautical themed corner with wooden floors, white and blue stripes and a very beach feel. In addition, there's an outdoor seating area on a panoramic terrace overlooking the harbour, ideal for sunset cocktails with a view.
The food places a strong emphasis on healthy dishes, creative cuisine and rich flavours. Menu items are as delicious as they look (just take a peek at their Instagram feed) with numerous gluten free, sugar free and dairy free options. This is refined coffee culture with a hip twist.
Inn the Park
Yes, you've guessed it, this one is located in a park but it's so well hidden from view that not many notice it and even fewer visit it, which means that it's the perfect hidden gem to enjoy at leisure without crowds. Located at the heart of Al Khazzan Park, Dubai's hippest, 100 percent solar-powered community and hangout spot for millennials, artsy souls and eco-conscious bohemians. The secret has been slowly getting out about this cafe, but it remains a peaceful, crowdless haven.
This low-key eatery and cafe flies under the radar, to the delight of their loyal customers. Like the park it sits inn, this cafe is solar-powered, fringed by walls made up of local coral and offering both indoor and outdoor seating. It doesn't get more serene than this and there's even an onsite curated library from which clients can borrow books to read while they eat and drink. Breakfasts are the cafe's specialty (even though it opens at 9 a.m. so early risers will have to wait) and menu items include smashed avocado with organic eggs, superbowl salads, tacos and southern style chicken. Great food in one of the city's best, most tranquil settings.
Make Art Cafe
With distinctive Arabic elements (including the beautiful columns and arches) and a mismatch of styles (from pallet furniture and decor to rustic-looking table tops made up of long wooden planks), this is one of Dubai's lesser-known young and hip, alternative cafes. Sofas have a pallet structure as a base with plush cushions on top, (even the counter is made from recycled pallets!) while chairs look like they've been taken out of a movie set or a camping trip. Some table tops also have colourful Moorish style tiles on top to add to the eclectic character. Not to mention the original paintings of local artists hanging on every wall or supported on easels. This place is indeed artsy, it could easily be considered the artsiest of them all.
In its beginnings, this was the UAE's first co-working cafe and ever since it has retained a loyal clientele. With original decor that they describe as "urban/industrial", this is a great place to either work or chill and it sits pretty at the heart of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, in Alserkal, the city's ultimate destination for artists, hipsters and millennial folk. On the food and drink font, it specialises in breakfast, sandwiches and pasta as well as an extensive selection of hot and ice coffees and teas.
Out of all the ones in the list, this is my top choice, my personal favourite, So, you could say I've saved the best ‘till last, but given that this is only my subjective opinion you might disagree. Let's see.
The One Cafe could easily be crowned Dubai's most unique cafe due to both its setting and its firm vegan attitude (I'm not a vegan myself in case you're joining dots and thinking this is why I chose it as my favourite). Yes, others in the list do cater for vegans and people with allergies extremely well. But none quite defines itself as the ultimate vegan venue. You gotta love a place that's different and brave enough to stand up for what it believes in even if it means losing carnivore customers. If you need your meat or eggs, look elsewhere now. But here being vegan doesn't equate being bland or boring, far from it this is one of the most creative culinary places you will find in Dubai. And you do have to give them extra kudos for that, for creating exceptional, truly dishes with alternative ingredients.
The vibe is rustic and free with indoor seating under a giant tent (see the hippy chic now?) and with tables made entirely out of raw, untreated wooden planks. Outdoor seating is scenic and serene on a pretty, well-tended garden. And if you need another excuse to come, this is a great place to keep up your diet goals. Everything is sugarfree, gluten free and dairy free but it all tastes so delicious! Trust me on this one.
Soulful Dubai, really?
Even when Dubai often stands for everything superficial, flashy and commercial, it does have some soul, the trick is knowing where to find it. Here we've shown you ten exceptional places to do just that and mingle with Dubai's hipster, millennial or otherwise trendy, eco-conscious and forward-thinking crowd.
At times mixing edgy ultra-modern furniture with vintage designs, retro touches, industrial styles, rustic feel and everything in between, Dubai's nascent hipster scene is definitely here to stay.