Thinking of making the hop to the UAE? Chris Strong Bar Manager of Dubai’s “Asia Asia” just has. Here he discusses life behind the bar in the Middle East…

With stints behind bars in London, New York, Paris, Copenhagen and Ireland I knew that it was time for a new challenge, something fresh to add to my repertoire of experience.

I needed a new experience - one that was out of ‘my’ world.

Nothing could have prepared me better for the role I took on as the first Bar Manager at Asia Asia Dubai’s opulent and prestigious Marina district, than these years globetrotting the bartending scene.

An Opportunity Too Good to Miss

As we all know, Dubai has risen to prominence around the globe over the past few years and is home to some of the wealthiest people in the world - including those who like to lead a very glamourous lifestyle.

With such a boom in popularity for this ‘new-era’ city, I had concerns that the hospitality sector would be littered with international franchises and super clubs, traditionally not renowned for their cocktail or service culture. Coming from some of the best five star bars in Europe I was concerned that attention to detail, quality of ingredients and products may be something the Dubai bar culture might yet have to adapt.

Despite this, I decided to take my chances. Working for the prestigious Asia Asia group was just too good to miss!

Sometimes life hands us opportunities and it’s important that you take the risk every now and again. After all, I believe that a bartender is only as good as the risk he’s willing to take…

Touch Down

On arrival to Dubai it took some time to adapt to the new culture, as the heat and customs varied greatly from what I was used to. It took me a couple of months to settle into a role I loved, but I was thrilled to accept my role as Bar Manager in Asia Asia.

Asia Asia was inspired by renowned restaurateurs Dean and Geremy Lucas’ renowned Spice Market in Melbourne, Australiamaking Asia Asia restaurant & lounge Dubai one of the most highly anticipated venues to open in The UAE.

The lavish Asia Asia interior in inspired from the ancient Spice Route travelled by traders, and has been beautifully furnished to reflect this famous journey from Asia through to the Far East.

I was pleasantly surprised by the passion shown by the bartenders and service staff. They were really keen to practice innovative drinks and their hunger for knowledge was evident.

I have found that the “Dubai bartending family” is as tight as it would be in London or New York and the drive to improve the hospitality sector is very evident. In Dubai there are huge opportunities for development and training and it’s a great place for bartenders looking to increase their experience and range of skills.

However, I did notice that guest’s experiences could be inconsistent in terms of drinks and service quality. I believe this is largely due to the rapid expansion of the city in the past 20 years.

Dubai has grown to become one of the financial centres of the world with many hospitality firms opening quickly to meet demand. These great operational teams are sometimes lacking in global hospitality experience, which would be my one of main challenges here.

This is changing and it takes bartenders who have the relevant experience to spread knowledge and educate those who are willing to learn.

The Sky’s the Limit

My plan for Asia Asia, was to build on strong values of hospitality, great service and memorable guest experiences, fine dining and drinking with a shot of Irish hospitality and our mantra “ Success requires no explanation, failure permits no alibis”.

We developed a cocktail programme based around premium products, the freshest ingredients and some very innovative serves. This, coupled with our commitment to the consistent delivery of 5 star service has been the key success leading to Asia Asia becoming one of the most popular destinations in the city in its first 9 months with a nomination for Dubai’s Best New Bar at the Ahlan Awards.

With over 5,000 restaurants in Dubai and a population of just three million this market is one of the most competitive I have ever worked in, but we’re top of our game and that’s no mean feat, this however just makes us push even harder.

With companies such as Diageo focusing on aspirational products there is no short supply of options to add a little difference to our menus and help us keep competitive.

The Future

Dubai bartenders are changing the face of drinks and service standards and it’s great to be part of the process that will define this Middle-Eastern city, not just as a world financial centre, but a global heavyweight in terms of cocktail and service culture. That and the fact it never ever rains makes it one of the best moves I have ever made!

If you ever want to board the proverbial train heading towards the future of bartending then I’d highly recommend Dubai as one of your first stops.

If you’re visiting Dubai, call in to see Chris serve the ‘classics’ behind the bar at Asia Asia www.asia-asia.com or follow @AsiaAsiaDubai.