x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New cafe is a haven for biker community

Dubai now has a meeting – and eating – point for the UAE's biker community. Noel Ebdon rides in to a new cafe in the city.

Bikers congregate outside the newly opened Biker Cafe on Beach Road, Jumeirah across from Mercato Mall. Antonie Robertson / The National
Bikers congregate outside the newly opened Biker Cafe on Beach Road, Jumeirah across from Mercato Mall. Antonie Robertson / The National

Britain and the US in the 1960s saw a massive outpouring of the most fearful of phenomena; teenage rebellion. At the forefront of this wave of freedom and expression was gasoline, fuelling the cars and bikes that allowed the young, free and single to get further than the end of the street to meet, party and ... well, you get the idea.

As with the general rule of cause and effect, these uncaged, angst-ridden teens needed somewhere to meet up, and cafes (diners in the US) sprang up everywhere, catering to this hungry hoard of hormonal petrol heads.

In the UK, by far the most famous of these was the Ace Cafe, a slightly run-down, seedy-looking place on the edge of an industrial estate overlooking London's North Circular motorway.

Bikers especially flocked to this new anti-establishment location, showing off their bikes, dating and, all too often, racing for papers with dire consequences.

Unfortunately I managed to be born too late to enjoy all this madness, and over the years this sort of fun has long since been outlawed and stamped out. But the Ace Cafe remains a "must visit" for any of the UK's biking community. I've been there five times and, yes, I bought a T-shirt.

Now, the UAE isn't too keen on grunge, and the idea of an industrial estate as the location for a high-end cafe is as foreign to the country as polar bears. So in true UAE style, the country's very first bikers' cafe has just opened on Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Road, the city's close cousin to California's Rodeo Drive.

It's opening night at the Bikers Cafe and I'm sitting on the wall outside the cafe, soaking up the UAE's version of that often missing atmosphere. It's definitely not the Ace, but it's pretty good so far.

It's a Friday night and every man and his dog are out cruising the strip in a wide variety of cars, people watching and showing off their machinery. Italian exotica, American muscle and even a 1908 Albany cruise past in the slow moving traffic. There are also bikes - a lot of bikes.

There's a real sense of fun and tomfoolery in the air as passers-by rev their engines and try to get up a lick of speed on the crowded roads. Most don't manage to get higher than around 20kph as the Friday night poseur jam grinds to yet another halt.

The bikers, however, finally have somewhere to stop and take in the sights, as well as a coffee, of course. The cafe is right on the roadside, directly opposite the imposing Mercato Mall, and allows riders to pull up right outside, walk straight in and place their orders.

The owners have been wise enough to place a few steps at the front door. This will hopefully deter riders from parking directly inside the cafe, although the off-roaders will require a bit more of a deterrent to stop the new outlet becoming a scene from an Eighties teen party movie.

For the launch, a wide range of bikers have turned up to try out the new venue. There's a huge selection of Harleys, but a number of sports bikes have also put in an appearance. Add to that a few classics, off-roaders and a crazy-looking T-Rex and the cafe has now caused the traffic to come to a complete standstill.

Inside, the whitewashed walls are covered with hundreds of pictures from the motorcycle world. Ranging from magazine covers to tourists' snaps from history, it's worth a visit just to have a good look around. For any self-respecting biker, there is more than enough to stay amused for quite a while.

The whole cafe is more London chic than Ace Cafe, but it still cocks a nod to the industry it worships. There are bikes in every corner and magazines from around the world on each table. The cafe is supposed to appeal to every kind of biker in the UAE, rather than catering to one segment of the market, a problem many of the other venues fall into.

Bikers have always had a reputation for hellraising and causing trouble. But in most cases this is as far from the truth as you can get. Bikers are often the most friendly, generous and fun people you'll meet, probably stemming from the camaraderie created from being misunderstood for so long.

Bikers gel in a way car owners often don't. Motorcycling is a great leveller, with millionaires mixing unnoticed with rusty jalopy riders. Having a central point to hang out in should prove the point even further.

The cafe is planning to show motorcycle racing such as MotoGP or World Superbikes, something that UAE's riders have been denied for a long while. Bike racing is rarely shown in the Gulf, despite Qatar hosting its own MotoGP race, so the cafe's airings will go down well with motorsport fans.

It also serves food, which I have yet to taste, but judging from the menus on the wall by the entrance, it should be more than enough for Dubai's biking community. It'll also draw in curious non-bikers, who fancy trying out the lifestyle from the safety of a cafe chair.

It is open early in the morning at weekends for breakfast, keen to catch the hungry riders coming back into the city from the popular Hatta mountain routes. I have already reserved my seat for Friday morning.

There are no current plans for more outlets across the UAE, but the success of the first bike-focused cafe is sure to sprout others if the recipe works. And if you don't ride, but fancy soaking up some of the atmosphere, don't be afraid. You'll be more than welcome at Dubai's newest petrolhead hang out.

Just don't be surprised if someone parks in the lobby.