Barred, Middle Ages Middle East Edition: All the Bars in Al Ain

I would not be lying if I said one of my most memorable moments in the UAE involved driving around with a metal commuter mug full of Filipino brandy and Coke with Nickleback blasting, but that was Dubai–I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was told that there were only two bars in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s second city, but maybe it was that there were only two bars that anyone goes to. If you visit The Horse & Jockey and Paco’s, in two separate hotels, in the same evening, it’s a good bet that you’ll see some of the same people.

Advertising a Cuban bar in a Dubai Hilton, not Paco's. A Cuban bar in a Dubai Hilton, not Paco’s.

When: Saturday, 10:16pm. Paco’s is Tex-Mex in theory but a pub in practice, filled mostly with non-American men smoking, downing pints and watching rugby on TV. Periodically, a one-man cover band played ‘90s hits plus Gotye.

Possibly due to jetlag, persistent aftereffects of the previous day’s mega-brunch and/or the harrowing drive up and down Jebel Hafeet, the second-highest mountain in the UAE, I was queasy–and a little on edge, not without reason. The male-female imbalance coupled with a boredom-averting reliance on alcohol can create a wolf pack atmosphere (not quite to a North Dakota degree). A stumbling Macedonian approached my friend, completely covered in long sleeves and pants, and before his hand could make contact while attempting to paw her chest, he’d been  knocked flat onto the ground by a Scot who sprang out of nowhere.

We just missed the influx of women. On the way out, we ran into a dolled-up mixed-nationality crew (most foreigners in town teach at local schools) who reminded me of the opening sequence of Super Fun Night, the not very funny show that I can’t believe is still on and that I continue to watch.

Age appropriate? Absolutely. The women that did exist were very diverse in age. Due to circumstance and limited drinking options, it’s not rare than 20somethings hang out with women two decades older.

By 11:46pm we were in the Hilton parking lot where Peach Garden was lit up with its separate entrance like a Chinese restaurant. It’s not a Chinese restaurant. I’m still not sure what Peach Garden is but it’s definitely not the place for non-Filipinas dressed in unsexy street clothes like my leggings, flat sandals and Gap chambray shirt dress. Which isn’t to say it was unwelcoming. Just weird. We grabbed the only two open seats at the bar and suffered the curious stares.

50 dirhams (roughly $14) buys a friend. Initially, I thought I was being asked if my friend and I were friends because the only word of English the gentleman sitting to my right could speak was “friend.” From what I could tell, the men weren’t buying anything more than company, a lady to sit with them. I’ve always found this arrangement baffling since it’s not like you can hold a conversation, and in this case there wasn’t even any touching that I could see. After a few overpriced beers, though, the chasteness felt kind of freeing.

Before the girl group musical productions started, a lone man took to the empty dance floor, emboldened after talking with the two Western women in the bar. It’s not often that I get exposed to such peacocking in NYC, so I had to savor it

Later on, against my better judgment, I was on the dance floor after a mutual eye lock and head nod with the only guy in the place I thought was cute. He was the least overtly masculine, a skinny Syrian with a German passport, who wore a jeans and t-shirt and seemed to have a sense of humor. It was all about dancing. No groping or grinding, just jumping up and down and waving arms with the other women too (African ladies showed up later). I believe the term is raging.

When my new friend passed by my stool on his way out he shouted jokingly, “Don’t come back to Al Ain” meant in a why are you wasting your time here manner. I probably won’t ever come back.

Age appropriate? Not at all–there was one middle-aged boss lady–but that was beside the point. While in the UAE I began warming to the tip I received on my first day that originally seemed arrogant, “No one will tell an American woman ‘no.’” Just do, don’t ask, essentially, which can be empowering for the socially cautious (me).

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