x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Metropolitan Hotel closes for business

A Dubai 'institution' has closed some of its doors ahead of scheduled demolition.

The Metropolitan Hotel is scheduled to be demolished this year.
The Metropolitan Hotel is scheduled to be demolished this year.

DUBAI // When Paul and Diane moved back to Dubai in 2009 after two decades away, one of the first things they did was check if the Sky Garden at the Metropolitan Hotel was still open.

They visited the garden bar at least once a month and go even more often now that the hotel - one of Dubai's oldest having opened in 1978 - is scheduled to be demolished this year.

It is to be replaced by a Dh4.9 billion, four-year luxury hotel project.

They are among many regulars who will mourn the hotel, with its garden bar, Red Lion pub and infamous Rattle Snake nightspot that began as some of the only places in town.

Over time the venues gained a loyal following, even as options in the emirate multiplied.

Among the 100 people who gathered in the garden last night for a closing ceremony were the British band who performed at the opening of the Red Lion and are still living in Dubai. Other long-time guests were also invited by the hotel.

"It's just a shame. There's a lot of regulars come here. There's not many places in Dubai that are old and traditional," said Diane, 46.

Paul, 48, added: "It's kind of an institution."

The event was low-key, attracting about 100 visitors to wish the old place a fond farewell.

Everybody there had a story to tell about the early days.

"It was the best place during those days," said Simon Cory Wright, a Dubai resident who runs a bookshop. "I have fond memories of the place. It was great fun."

Khalaf Al Habtoor, the chairman of Dubai's family-run Al Habtoor Group, which owns the Metropolitan, said: "It was the first hotel in the area on Sheikh Zayed Road. I personally feel sad."

Mr Al Habtoor said it was not an easy hotel to build but the hard work paid off.

In 1976 he was called to the Zabeel Palace by Sheikh Rashid, the late Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and asked to build him a hotel.

"He brought me to the patch of land here and instructed me to construct a hotel," Mr Al Habtoor said. "He said the airport is being expanded and a hotel is needed. When I asked about the money he said do whatever you want but don't talk about money."

The hotel opened in what was largely desert. Residents living around the Creek in the 1980s used to consider it unreasonably far - "halfway to Abu Dhabi", Paul said.

The hotel had a mere 187 rooms and could only fill about a third of them, said the resident manager Khalid Saeed.

Only five rooms have been added since, in 1999. Even at that time, the Metropolitan was considered an old hotel.

This added to its appeal, Warwick Janes, the general manager at the time, said in a company publication. "This hotel has aged gracefully and visitors appreciate it."

Its longevity continues to draw guests, giving the hotel nearly 90 per cent occupancy.

"People come here because they are attached to the Metropolitan," Mr Saeed said.

Even after the Metropolitan goes under, most of the outlets will be preserved. The Sky Garden and three restaurants will be relocated to the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa.

The Red Lion may not move, as that hotel already has a pub, but it will eventually reopen with the same layout.

The only outlet that will shut for good is the Rattle Snake, which over the years had gained a reputation of ill-repute. It stands somewhat separate, with a walled-off walkway entrance and doors facing away from the hotel.

Visitors knew of its reputation, with those from out of town commenting on it on the travel website TripAdvisor.

"The Rattle Snake is well known in Dubai, but that seedier side of the hotel is separate enough not to bother guests too much," said a British guest, who stayed on New Year's Eve.

The Rattle Snake did not always have such a reputation, and even when it did it had good live music, said Mohammed Hatamleh, 35, from Jordan, a Metropolitan loyalist who frequented all three venues.

"It was a good place. I mean, it was always good but it was a decent place," Mr Hatamleh said.

He has visited the Metropolitan for more than a decade, enjoying live music at the Rattle Snake, feeding dirhams into the jukebox and taking a quiet lunch in the garden.

Mr Hatamleh has come to recognise plenty of other regulars.

"They just can't stay away," he said. "Some people just like places not to change, you know? Especially if you've been coming for many years."

chuang@thenational.ae

frahman@thenational.ae

 

This article has been corrected since publication. The original misstated the name of Warwick Janes.