If your perception of business in the Middle East is one of men in sunglasses discussing arms deals and oil trades, then you’d be wrong. Well, that’s not to say this doesn’t go on, but a visit to Dubai, and in particular DIFC, the vibrant Dubai International Financial Centre, will reveal something akin to Canary Wharf meets Dover Street.
The DIFC opened for business in 2004 and is now home to a remarkable 1,750 companies, reaching the 1,000 company milestone in 2013. Here, businesses enjoy modern office surroundings, intermingled with art galleries such as The Empty Quarter and Christies, restaurants and bars, hotels, coffee shops and gyms. If you have had your fill of La Petite Maison or Cipriani (and it may be wise to seek your bank manager’s permission prior to a visit), you can head for Zuma or Boca, the universally popular Spanish themed bar/resto that is frequented by the old guard of the private finance scene. The Four Seasons Hotel is a smaller version of the Jumeirah Beach Road resort, but is a delightfully discreet place to discuss one’s (business) affairs.
But there is one constant in the ever-changing DIFC which has attracted a loyal following since it opened its doors in 2008, and that is the Capital Club. Clubs, per se, evoke different images to different people. In London, royalty, aristocracy and the landed gentry have gathered for centuries in the men-only paneled dining rooms of St James’s, with perhaps less compulsion to leave by 2.30pm and certainly not without quaffing a healthy dose of the sommelier’s generously subsidised Savigny or Sancerre. These wonderful establishments, for that is what they are, attract opprobrium from left leaning gender-fluid Corbynites for upholding certain traditions that are alien to the many, not the few. That is entirely understandable, but for some people these traditions are harmlessly important, and that is not to be messed with in the name of political correctness. It is hard to beat the Oyster and Beef Lunch at the Turf Club where the denizens of 5, Carlton House Terrace treat each other, and the long-serving staff, with respect and affection. Indeed, the marvellous Brian has served members there since 1959!
There are far racier clubs further East, where tradition and modernity have combined to produce a winning formula for Nick Jones of Soho House fame (and not inconsiderable fortune). Comfy Chesterfields and shabby chic blend in seamlessly with the Damian Hursts and Richard Princes. “Media” clubs abound with open-collared members sipping a Dirty Martini whilst possibly identifying more with Corbyn than Rees Mogg, but that’s ok too because it’s all about balance. The fact that you cannot wear a tie in some of these clubs isn’t a subject for discussion in Boodles for example, because it doesn’t matter.
And that’s where the Capital Club Dubai fits in to this fast moving economic hub. Whilst based right in the middle of the DIFC it is bound to have a business focus, but there is a very definite balance between work and play, and the diversity of the membership ensures there is no sense of snootiness. It is, if you like, a combination of St James’s and Greek Street, and just as well run. Ian Palmer (or Palmer-Ham as he was dubbed by one of his old wine suppliers of Armenian descent), the accessible and popular General Manager, has used his light touch to lift the club’s collective spirit by introducing The Club Table, among other tweaks. Here, members congregate on a Thursday, ad hoc, and stay as long as their workload permits. They may have enjoyed a pre-prandial gargle in the Bollinger Garden, or finished off a deal in one of the impressive second floor meeting rooms. They may be an overseas member, staying in one of the club’s beautifully appointed bedrooms or have popped into the gym to assuage the soon to be felt guilt that an indulgent lunch can bring. And Palmer should know, for it was he who introduced the highly popular concept at Home House in London, as well as enjoying successful stints at The Savoy and Claridges. He has judged the mood of the club perfectly, where one might also wish to escape temperatures peaking 45 degrees by introducing a common sense dress code of “no sombreros or flip flops”. This hasn’t, as yet, been put to the test.