DRVN revs into Dubai with a cafe and car museum

The Emirati-owned restaurant launched in Abu Dhabi before making its Dubai debut in October

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Natural light floods in through floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer lovely views of Bluewaters Island from DRVN's two-floor venue that is sleek and comfortable.

But chances are visitors won’t notice any of this because they’re too busy gaping at the vintage cars, carefully placed behind glass displays.

At the home-grown restaurant's first Dubai branch, three classic Porsches took pride of place on opening day. There was an original 1948 Porsche 356 “No 1” Roadster, a 1978 Porsche 935/78 “Moby Dick” and a 1970 Porsche 911 S 2.2 Targa. Vehicles on display are constantly rotating, and those that were there during opening had never even been seen outside of Porsche events, let alone in the UAE before.

It really does give the phrase “dinner with a view” a whole new meaning.

DRVN is part-cafe – the venue roasts its own coffee beans and serves a mean Neapolitan pizza – and part-car museum.

It’s hard to find a definitive definition of the unique space, but this is how its founder Rashed Al Fahim describes it: “DRVN is a gallery, and everything we display here is art. Our coffee, our machines, our pizza are art. And the cars are also displays of art. When you have such pieces at the centre, you don’t need anything on your walls.”

How it all began

Fahim was an Emirates pilot with a background in finance before he started DRVN.

He says he's had a love for cars “since he was born” and, with a private family collection that spans more than 100 vehicles, he wanted to find a way to “share them with people who were passionate about them”.

This desire led to him pitching the concept of a cafe with a car display to the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development. The money that came from the fund went towards the launch of DRVN’s first branch, in Al Rawdah, Abu Dhabi in 2019. The aim, he says, was to create a place where people could sit down next to some “never-seen-before cars, while sipping on the best coffee, and eating the best pizza”.

At the time, many thought the venue was so big it would be impossible to fill it up with customers, he says. “I didn’t care. I had created a place that I would love to hang out with my friends. So, I told them, even if I break even, I don’t need anything else.”

But the reaction was “far beyond anything he had ever envisioned”. It led to a second branch on Al Hudayriyat Island, and finally the Dubai branch on Bluewaters Island, which opened in October. And there are more plans in the pipeline spanning the next five years.

“I think Dubai can accommodate three to four DRVNs,” he says.

Even more ambitious are his plans of going global. “We are thinking about it, some place regional in mind,” he says.

Come for the cars, stay for the coffee

Over at the Bluewaters branch, a portion of the floor has been made into a car lift – the only way to accommodate the range of vehicles that change each week. Thanks to a deal with Porsche, the venue is also constantly able to showcase some vehicles never seen in the UAE before.

“Porsche flew in 17 cars from the Porsche Museum, valued at Dh600 million. Visitors will get a chance to see all of these cars,” says Fahim.

These are no ordinary cars, either – many are vintage or have historical significance. A 2004 Carrera GT, 919 Hybrid racing car and a Le Mans-winning 917 are just some examples.

“When people walk by, it’s the first thing that catches your eye. Curiosity draws you in. And then people ask for the menu and everything looks good. That’s how they become regulars,” says Fahim.

It’s why a great level of thought has also gone into the food being served. With Fahim being an enthusiastic home chef, he’s been hands-on when it comes to deciding what’s on the menu.

“I used to fly to all these places as a pilot, and there would be huge time differences. When you wake up, you don’t want dinner, you want breakfast. That’s why we have two stations for an all-day breakfast. You want pancakes at 11pm? No problem,” he says.

Also on the menu are authentic Neapolitan pizzas, burgers and pastas. “When we started serving up Neapolitan pizzas, we were among the first in Abu Dhabi. Now many have followed suit,” says Fahim.

DRVN takes its coffee seriously, too. Not only does it roast its own beans, it also sells the beans separately – in packaging with tyre marks – for fans craving that flavour.

“Coffee is a huge part of Arab culture,” says Fahim. “It has been for the past 5,000 years. It’s how we greet people, and it is how we welcome people.

“It’s all part of our motto – driven by passions. Everything we do we have to be passionate about. And now, we have people coming over for the food. The cars are just in the background.”

Updated: January 11, 2022, 4:52 AM