x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Tea, shisha, and cards among the pursuits at Garden

The furnishings and paintwork may look a little tired but this shisha cafe is a haven for its customers who congregate for cards, backgammon and a good cup of tea.

Rasheed Parchei Mohammed al Sammak, Diaa Tawfig and Mohammed Yousif play cards at Garden.
Rasheed Parchei Mohammed al Sammak, Diaa Tawfig and Mohammed Yousif play cards at Garden.

ABU DHABI // Most of the paint peeled off long ago and the window cleaner has not visited for a while.

An abandoned outdoor seating area is now a sandpit, save for the odd shoot of grass. The air smells of cigarette, shisha, cigar and an old sofa.

At first glance Garden does not look like much. But for a select group this shisha cafe tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Airport Road, near 15th Street, is a home away from home.

Ali Ibrahim, a 35-year-old Lebanese expatriate and business owner, is a regular patron. He sees the place as a respite from family and work, somewhere he can come to relax. There are other benefits too.

"The shisha here is the best in the city," he says.

Mr Ibrahim can usually be found with his Lebanese friend, 35-year-old Atef Dagher, in a corner of the cafe playing backgammon.

"We only come here to smoke, drink coffee and remove work and pressure from ourselves," says Mr Dagher, who is also self-employed.

It is a sentiment shared by many of the patrons who descend on the small cafe. On a recent evening, young Emirati students took a break from their studies to discuss how their exams went the day before, a group of West Africans sang raucously and jokingly accused a member of their group of being a sore loser in the game of cards.

"We go to college at the Higher College of Technology, nearby, and come here to sit and chat," says 20-year-old Emirati student Mohamed Ghazi. "The most normal thing, in Emirati culture, is just to sit and have a small talk about daily life. We also love the hooka because it is clean."

The cleanliness of the pipe, adds the student, is imperative for keeping the taste of the tobacco fresh and light.

Joined by two friends, 20-year-old Abulaziz Mohsen and 24-year-old Abdullah Omar, the three are unanimous in agreement over the two things that continually draw them back to the coffee shop.

"We all love the shisha and the karak tea," says Mr Mohsen. Karak tea, one of the many varieties offered at Garden, is made with milk and various spices, he explains.

The worn furnishings are just part of the place's shabby appeal.

"We don't care about the appearance, we just care about who sits next to us," says Mr Mohsen.

The regulars are served by five men who fix their shisha, keep the coal topped up, brew the tea and make sure there are enough decks of cards to go around everyone.

It is a job that 21-year-old Tarek Khan, from Bangladesh, was happy to take on.

"I have worked here for two years and, at the moment, would never want to work anywhere else," he said. "I would like to travel to different countries, Inshallah, but this is good."

"I might work every day ... but everyone is my friend," said Mr Khan. "It's the same people that come here every day, and everybody gets on."

Garden opens at 8.30am, when some of the most hardened shisha smokers turn up. Things get busy in the evening, at about 7pm, lasting right up until 1am when the cafe closes for the night.