To know how the pandemic has upended the UAE clubbing scene, consider this: next weekend’s debut of new lounge night concept La Fiesta at The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort is nearly sold out.
Veteran event organiser Makki Makki, owner of Mackie Entertainment, says this rarely happens.
The Abu Dhabi market, he explains, is typically slow burning, with people often making club reservations on the day of the event.
"People take their time here. They want to see what their options are and how they are feeling on the day before making their booking. This can be stressful for promoters but you learn to live it with it."
But with Covid-19 having closed large-scale nightclubs across the Emirates for the foreseeable future, lounge clubs have emerged to cater to everyone from music lovers to food aficionados.
With the concept proving successful in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, Abu Dhabi is entering the fray with La Fiesta, one of the capital’s first new events to run weekly from Friday, October 16, at the Rio Brazilian Club restaurant.
The night is being marketed as one of musical and culinary fusion. Seasoned Abu Dhabi DJ Jay Beats will be spinning the latest reggaeton, Afrobeat and RnB tunes, and parties of up to four at a table can try drinks and Brazilian bites from the comfort of their seats.
There will be no dance floor and people will remain at their tables, with the exception of going to the toilets and to leave the venue. With a 40 per cent capacity mandated by the Abu Dhabi government, the venue can welcome up to 100 people, so online booking is essential.
The chilled crowds of Abu Dhabi
This is clubbing in the era of the pandemic and Makki says Abu Dhabi is well placed to be in tune.
The Sudanese businessman, who was born and raised in the capital, explains that the lounge concept is a natural fit for the city.
“The crowd here has always been more chilled. The focus is more on the quality and vibe of the place and the people you hang out with,” he says. “And this is why you find fewer clubs here and more restaurants.”
With La Fiesta, Makki is combining the best of both worlds to keep things fun, but also feasible.
“What we are doing with the lounge is a club vibe with a restaurant approach,” he says. “People will make a booking and arrive on time like it’s a restaurant. And because they are sitting down most of the time, they won’t stay more than four hours or so. This allows us to welcome more people who want to come either earlier or later in the evening.”
It is an idea tailor-made for Abu Dhabi. While nightclubs across Dubai, such as 1 Oak and Boudoir, had to reconfigure their venues to create a lounge setting, Abu Dhabi destinations should have no such trouble.
“Most of the places in Abu Dhabi are naturally designed to become lounges because they are smaller restaurants and have a personal atmosphere,” Makki says. “All we have to do is make some adjustments in terms of the seating, and in some cases removing the dance floor.”
Bigger clubs in Dubai, on the other hand, not only have to downsize, but have to create an intimate vibe, he says.
Makki saw this first-hand when making numerous trips to Dubai on what he describes as "study missions". In addition to learning what tweaks needed to be made for La Fiesta, he was also surprised at the enthusiasm shown by patrons.
“This is not just in Dubai, by the way. I see it here in Abu Dhabi with people asking me about the next event and how they can support it,” he says.
“Like many things during Covid-19, people realised what they had and in some cases still have. With clubs, people can be picky and sometimes not understand the work and the team effort that goes into them. I am seeing bigger appreciation and support now. This makes me feel excited about this new step.”
Afropop music will make its mark
Like any event manager, Makki is making the most of the opportunities that come with the new landscape.
With Mackie Entertainment, he specialises in bringing vintage RnB and hip-hop acts to the region, such as RnB singer Mya, Turn Me On singer Kevin Lyttle and hardcore rapper Cassidy, but Makki's heart lies in Afrobeat and Afropop.
The last event he set up before the pandemic was a well-received Afropop club night at The Abu Dhabi Edition nightspot Annex. He predicts the pandemic will cement the genre’s standing in the UAE.
“It has always been there, but now, with this situation, this will be the leading music for a while,” he says. “That’s because it is perfect for lounges. You can appreciate it for the music itself or it can be in the background when you hang out with your friends.”
More BFF than VIP
Speaking of which, Makki says the company you keep will be of the utmost importance when considering a night out. With movement restrictions and limited groups per table, he says people should head out only with those they gel with.
"Before the virus, the scene was about being VIP," he says. "Now it's BFF. Since you won't be able to meet new people like you normally do in a club, its best to come with your best friends and homies. I am sure there will be a lot to talk about."
La Fiesta takes place on Fridays at Rio Brazilian Club, The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort. Doors open 9pm. For reservations call 058 599 9090