Oxygen takes James Fryer’s breath away – but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The word oxygen conjures images of clear blue skies with fluffy white clouds, a spring breeze carrying the scent of freshly cut grass and a zen-like state which can be achieved only by drinking Pimms with friends at one o’clock on a lazy afternoon. But not for the designers of Al Bustan Rotana’s popular bar. For them the word means lycra-clad waitresses, plastic-tasting food and a failed blonde joke theme in the men’s loo – all in an underground spot usually reserved for dirty car parks.
Greeted by two pretty, heavily made-up girls sporting tight tops and black trousers that were more body-strangling than body-hugging, smiles were a’plenty but a grasp of the English language wasn’t. Basic orders were received with a blank look followed by summer holiday-style pointing and speaking very slowly. Then repeating ourselves. But things can only improve with the English lessons provided by another waitress in between customers.
The strawberry and vanilla martini (Dhs33) was a strong, sweet, syrupy concoction bursting with silky, if a little perfumey, flavours. I rued being the designated driver as I sipped at a supposedly fresh orange juice (Dhs15), reminiscent of OJ in its long-life carton-derived form. But, with the DJ yet to arrive, a house music CD peppered with plenty of “oh, baby” and “yeah, come on” lyrics was piped out at the perfect volume so as not to drown out conversation.
Although the waitress insisted the snacks listed on the bar menu weren’t available, she recited a ‘new’ list that was exactly the same. We ended up with tough, overcooked chicken satay skewers (Dhs27) and gristly beef skewers (Dhs29) dunked in a pot of zingy satay sauce which tasted as if from a jar. A couple of slices of cucumber and tomato adorned the plate, tasting of nothing but grease. The spring rolls (Dhs27) had a generous vegetable filling and overriding oily pastry exterior, while the seafood wontons (Dhs29) contained an unidentified aquatic mush. Dishes were soon pushed to one side as we gazed over at the huge flat screen television silently beaming out stick-thin models strutting down the Fashion TV catwalk.
Burly bouncers flexed their muscles at the door and punters slowly spilled in. This time my Coca-Cola (Dhs15) was a safer bet while a lacklustre mojito (Dhs33), despite a generous splash of rum, wasn’t well received, largely due to pieces of mint perfectly sized to shoot up the straw on every slurp. Also on offer was a range of shooters, telling of the kind of clientele Oxygen hopes to attract, with titles not suitable to be printed here. The men’s toilets followed tacky suit with blonde jokes framed above four urinals. They didn’t quite make sense, and for some strange reason the first and fourth ‘jokes’ were the same – is it that hard to muster up another to complete such a beautiful collection?
Even so, Oxygen has become a Dubai institution. Radio adverts promoting the venue boast big name DJs banging out tunes in almost every conceivable genre, and there are the ubiquitous happy hours, ladies nights and deals galore to keep the punters coming back to the dimly lit boudoir-esque venue. Later on, space on the dance floor and in the private curtained booths is at a premium. As are the prime tables near the steel-poled DJ booth which are marked with ‘reserved’ signs early.
We’ve heard rumours Oxygen might close down later this year to make way for a new club with a new name. Until then, carbon monoxide will be in our thoughts.
Oxygen, Al Bustan Rotana. Tel: (04) 2820000.
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