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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Café culture is thriving in Dubai thanks to Instagram

Cool new cafes that are gaining popularity through social media have been popping up everywhere

Unicorn Vibes located in Business Bay. Antonie Robertson / The National
Unicorn Vibes located in Business Bay. Antonie Robertson / The National

As I step inside a courtyard oasis, leaving the industrial streets of Al Quoz behind me, I open the door and am greeted by high ceilings, arch-shaped entrances and walls painted in stylish hues of "millennial pink".

I’ve just entered Boston Lane – a new coffee shop in Dubai that has been appearing over and over again on my Instagram feed, despite the fact that the new company has no website or PR company yet.

Speckled pink granite forms the countertop of the bar, quaint cotton plants decorate table centres, and nooks and crannies of the space are set up as miniature boutiques housing brands from The Collective by Ripe.

At 11:15 on a Sunday morning, this Instagram hotspot is abuzz with customers. And though much of its interiors sport pastel pinks, there’s hardly a girl’s-only vibe to the space, which also features rustic woods and wicker chair-backs.

A couple of men in kandooras chat over coffee at one table, while a booth nearby hosts three generations – an elderly mother, her daughter, and a newborn.

Two rows feature a total of six paintings, which are both abstract and minimal, and leafy plants are set up all over the café – including in a corner dubbed “The People’s Pop Up", where a selection of plants and cacti are for sale.

The food is nothing fancy. A clipboard near the cash register lists the offerings, which range from a variety of coffees to flavourful toasties – glorified grilled-cheese sandwiches. It’ all served in disposable paper trays and takeaway cups that are stamped with the brand’s logo: a toastie on legs.

Did I hear anything about Boston Lane from a press e-mail or radio advertisement? Nope. All of a sudden, over the past few weeks, pictures -unsponsored and unpaid for - from the café have been popping up on my Instagram feed.

Naturally, I had to check it out. And, don't be mistaken, this coffee shop isn’t the only UAE F&B concept making waves on social media.

Instagram has become the new way to promote cool eateries in the city. Jolie Café in Citywalk is a quaint café with healthy – though pricey, food options, and shabby-chic surroundings. It’s Instagram page highlights the beautiful floral décor, cakes and picturesque table settings. Customers are also each given a fresh rose to take home.

It’s not just the pink, floral, girlie cafes that are becoming popular through social media. A rudimentary illustration of a knife, paintbrush and scissors is the logo of Cabin, which is located in a basement of Al Barsha. There’s an offbeat, industrial theme to the underground café, which also sells art and art supplies. But if you try searching the space on Google, you’ll come up dry. Social media is literally the only driving force behind some of these concept cafes – and the air of mystery and intrigue that is then built up, is working completely in their favour.

Dubai isn’t the only emirate that’s catching onto the trend. The Mail Room in Sharjah is another new concept. Interiors of the café feature vintage-inspired décor like a typewriter and antique telephone. While scrolling through the new brand’s Instagram images, I actually find myself more drawn to pictures of the décor, than the actual food on offer.

What attracts many residents to these new food and drink hotspots, are the venues’ interiors: colourful walls, decorated shelves, cacti and floral arrangements provide Instagram-worthy moments, after all. The taste and quality of the food? Well that comes secondary with this particular social media food fad.