Cirque Le Soir brightens up Dubai nightlife

Dubai nightclub Cirque Le Soir's winning formula illustrates how to run a venue that stands out from the crowd.

Ryan Bish is the owner of Cirque Le Soir. Pawan Singh / The National
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Ryan Bish is the owner of Cirque Le Soir, a London nightclub that attracts the likes of singers Drake and Rihanna. In collaboration with Pragma Group, Mr Bish opened a Cirque Le Soir on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road in 2011. Here, the 34-year-old Brit reveals how to run a venue that stands out from the crowd.

Dubai was the first location you opened outside London. Why here?

I met someone in the first Cirque Le Soir and they were part of the Pragma group and it went from there really. Because we had never done anything in Dubai we initially did a popup in The 400 Club – that was the first taste of the market. The concept went so well that we decided to make it a permanent fixture and franchise it. So from the start of the popup party to four months later we had a permanent venue. Pragma has a very big infrastructure and they have been a big help. They’ve taken the franchise so without them it wouldn’t have happened.

Since you opened in 2011, several other clubs have opened. How’s your popularity holding up?

Cirque was one of the first international nightclub brands to come to Dubai and since then every other nightclub from all over the world wants to come here. Obviously when new clubs open up and they are targeting the same demographic that will affect us initially. But I think when a new club opens up they all have their honeymoon period but after that everyone reverts to what they know. I come here at least six times year; I need to show my face. I am really happy with the club – after two-and-a-half years, it’s still going really strong.

So what makes you different?

Obviously it goes without saying our USP is our performers and entertainment, whereas most clubs base themselves on their names and their decor and what kind of LED lights they have. We have a varying cast of performers and entertainers that change on a regular basis. They are all international so you wouldn’t have seen any of these people in Dubai before. We basically have a big database of performers from all over the world and we rotate them between London, Dubai and Shanghai and our world tour. It’s ever-changing and constantly evolving.

What’s the difference between operating in London and in Dubai?

I guess London is an already saturated market for nightclubs – it’s really cut-throat. Coming from London where it’s so intense competitively, we were running on a very high gear already coming here. And I think having a really hot nightclub from London and bringing it to Dubai, you already have a start over someone trying to start a Dubai nightclub. We’ve had to adapt the concept for Dubai because in London it’s very risqué and we push the boundaries a lot – whereas in Dubai we’re very restricted with our performers and shows: we can’t show any skin and they must be covered up at all times on stage. In London, less is more.

So after Dubai, where next?

Shanghai opened six months ago and it’s going well. We’ve a lot of interest from Asia and the next opening will probably be Beijing and we have a site in New York that we are looking at. We are doing an extended popup in Paris this summer and Morocco. Generally, like Dubai, we test the market by doing a couple of popup nights; and then we might do an extended popup; and then a set site.

Cirque Le Soir in London is famous for attracting celebrities. Why is that?

It’s because they come, get left alone and don’t get harassed. Obviously they are going to be followed by the paparazzi outside but once they are inside no one really pays them much attention. If there is a celeb in the club and someone is trying to take a picture of them with a phone or video we don’t allow that. It’s intrusive. I’ve been in the club scene in London’s West End for the best part of 10 years so I guess it’s about moving in the right circles really – it’s all just friends of friends. There are a lot of clubs that have to pay for celebrities to show up and we’ve never used that model because once you start doing that you’ll always be stuck in that rut because celebrities, their agents and their management speak with each other so you are then seen as a client and not somewhere to hang out. I’ve always adopted a very strict door policy so the ventures have always been higher tier and kept an exclusive feel. With the exclusivity comes the edginess that network aspires to be around.

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