Every day, it seems, a new eatery, coffee house, cafe or restaurant opens in Dubai, and every day, it also seems, one closes. Longevity in the city is not a given – the external factors affecting a business's financial viability can be many and volatile, and competition is often tough and constantly evolving. So it's rather refreshing to be able to welcome an establishment where the bottom line is not as important as its reason for being. Say hello to 701.
As the nomenclature suggests, this innovative art gallery/working studio/coffee shop/performance venue occupies space on the seventh floor of Prime Tower in the heart of Business Bay. And that space totals an impressive 8,650 square feet inside and out, although the terrace area – complete with a large, artificial lawn and a sizeable swimming pool with uninterrupted views of the Burj Khalifa – is unlikely to be busy for another couple of months.
The business has been building steadily and organically – something that's evidently important to its two founders, Kuwaiti property developer and investor Faisal Al Saleh, and Australian food-and-beverage consultant and restaurant concept expert Michael Stojkovic. "This is a space for artists, first and foremost," says Al Saleh. "This building is one of my developments, and the idea came to me to open a venue that would help entrepreneurs and creatives, and assist in developing the UAE's art scene. That's when Michael came into the picture, to help turn this vision into a reality."
Stojkovic is from Sydney and has been in the UAE for five years, in which time he has been involved in the launches of some of Dubai’s big-name venues. “When I met Faisal and was shown this space, I immediately wanted to come on board,” he recalls. “It’s a unique place with incredible views from the terrace, and the concept had to be right. And I believe we’ve achieved that – there’s nowhere else like it. We have resident artists here, we support them and provide them with a platform for their creativity. And it’s a place where anyone can come in, hang out, enjoy great coffee and food, while experiencing the creation of works of art.”
There's space for six resident artists, with one area currently unoccupied. There's enough room for more, but Al Saleh maintains that he doesn't want to up the numbers, as it would impinge on the quality of the experience on offer. There's a New York loft vibe here, with a vast, polished concrete floor, exposed ventilation equipment and, as you might expect, urban artworks painted over almost all available wall space. As for the coffee, it's from Seven Fortunes Coffee Roasters and right up there with the best in Dubai.
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“I’m not in this for commercial reasons,” Al Saleh asserts. “I want this to be a place that encourages entrepreneurism, creativity and a sense of community. It’s the wrong time of year for it right now, obviously, but when it gets cooler we will be able to host incredible events using the outside area as well.”
The stunning cityscape vistas on offer are enough of a draw – New Year’s Eve here would be incredible – but apart from the large pool and showers, which visitors are free to use should they wish, there’s visual stimuli in the form of yet more art-covered surfaces that Stojkovic refers to as an “activation wall”. Currently, it’s host to thought-provoking works produced by Canadian artist Denial Art and 701 resident Just One.
Leadership workshops, artist exhibitions, stand-up comedy nights, puppy Pilates classes on the terrace and weekly business seminars that help up-and-coming business owners navigate the legal minefields of setting up – these are some of the uses this venue has already been put to. And there's much more in the pipeline. "We don't just see art as being something on a canvas," Stojkovic says. "We look at food and coffee as art. Fashion, too."
Unlike many studios and galleries, there's no intimidation at play here – it's a multifaceted space where everyone is welcome. Yes, you can meet and talk to the artists themselves, and you can purchase their work if you so wish, but there's no pressure – and that's entirely intentional. Al Saleh and Stojkovic want to encourage artists in their pursuits, and the areas they occupy are provided rent-free, which makes another refreshing change. They have succeeded in achieving a relaxed atmosphere that's welcoming to all, even if all you want to do is open your laptop, do some work and enjoy some remarkably fine coffee.