Ping pong bars and sideshow stars — Dubai nightlife gets an edge

Dubai’s latest leftfield entertainment venture is backed by Susan Sarandon — but that’s not even the most surprising thing about Dubai’s nightlife
Cirque le Soir

If you’re looking for the biggest, the boldest, the most expensive in Dubai, you’ve got plenty to choose from.

When it comes to the quirkiest, however, you need to dig deeper.

But three clubs inject much needed unpredictability into Dubai nightlife.

One standout new arrival is a ping pong-themed extravaganza with an improbable celebrity backer.

There’s the glitzy gathering that updates the carnival sideshow.

A third slightly off-the-wall night spot is a Filipino break dance disco that revives the glorious 1970s.

SPiN: Ping pong in the desert

Born in New York City, SPiN seems like an odd concept to export to Dubai.

A ping pong-crazy city such as Shanghai or London seems a more obvious choice.

Just as improbable-sounding is the identity of one of its co-owners — that stalwart of left-leaning, thoughtful films, Susan Sarandon.

It turns out, the star isn’t only into ping pong, she’s also managed to tie it to Dubai’s best and biggest groove.

Occupying pride of place at SPiN Dubai is nothing other than a gold plated ping pong table.

SPiN DubaiSPiN Dubai’s obligatory nod to the regions’ glitz comes in the form of a gold-plated ping pong table.Ping pong? Susan Sarandon?

The star is a “ping pong propagandist,” Sarandon tells CNN by email.

“The game’s so simple, so fast paced, and so much fun.

“It helps people recapture the playfulness they knew when they discovered the game at school or at camp.”

Nine tables punctuate SPiN’s cavernous 1,200-square-meter space.

A bar wrapping around two walls is back-lit in purple, oversized bulbs hanging above it like novelty items.

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Under the ultraviolet glow illuminating the ping pong tables, orange balls click-clack back and forth like tiny fluorescent comets.

Black-clad staff scurry among the tables with small nets attached to poles, scooping up errant balls and replenishing players’ baskets.

The décor — underplayed kitsch with futuristic touches — creates a space like a stylized 1960s version of a moon base.

An eclectic crowd patronizes the club.

People in sweatbands and sports gear party alongside men in suits and well-dressed 20-somethings.

The vibe is a stark contrast to the more pretentious end of the Dubai clubbing spectrum and very much in tune with the guile-less spirit that attracts Sarandon to the sport.

Sarandon’s own playing style?

“I represent those who dance while they play,” she says mysteriously.

But she has rivals.

Kitsch meets futuristic at SPiN Dubai.“Prince was playing the other day [in SPiN New York], and I was too shy to play with him.”

Lucky she can combine work with practicing the game.

Her next movie is called “Ping Pong Summer.”

SPiN Dubai, Wafi City, 26th Street, Umm Hurair 2; +971 (0)4 370 7707; open Saturday to Tuesday 6 p.m.-1 a.m. and Wednesday to Friday 6 p.m.-3 a.m.

Entry is free. Half an hour at a table costs 100 dirham ($27) for unlimited people.

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Big top

If Susan Sarandon can’t win you over to ping pong, you might channel your inner circus geek at Cirque le Soir.

At this sideshow-themed club, Dubai’s glamorous clubbing set party alongside fire eaters, sword swallowers, stilt walkers and aerialists.

On a recent visit, a contortionist crab-walking on his hands ushered guests down to the narrow, low-ceilinged basement where painted women swung above the crowd on hoops.

Performers rotated between podiums, glass cages and the stage.

The highlight of the night?

Magic circle … the freak’s the guy with the tie at Cirque le Soir.The skinny, bearded man who skewered his chest, arms and cheeks with giant steel needles.

On second thought, maybe it was the woman who showered the stage in hot orange sparks as she applied an angle-grinder to her steel-plated underwear in time to the beat.

In keeping with the carnival theme, guests order drinks by spinning a wheel of fortune with a choice of shots.

Let fate decide if you’ll be drinking Lion’s Puke, Elephant’s Spit or Clown Tears.

Cirque le Soir, Fairmont Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road; +971 (0)561 154 507; open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10:30 p.m-.3 a.m.

Entry is free. Table reservations start from 5,000 dirham ($1,360)

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Filipino funk

Club Se7enLet’s hope he went easy on the sisig — Filipino pig’s snout broth, available at Club Se7en — before he went on stage.You can take things down a notch at a club where a tightly choreographed Filipino break-dancing troupe is the climax of the night.

A mix of Western Top 40 and Pinoy hits draws a down-to-earth crowd on to Club Se7en’s incandescent, Saturday Night Fever-esque dance floor.

Things get feverish when a B-boy crew of eight appear.

The Philippines has some of Asia’s best breakdancers, the fruit of the nation’s 30-year-long long love affair with the style.

Led by Super Mario, Club Se7en’s all-Manila breakers are unrivaled in Dubai, popping and locking their way across stage with ferocious energy.

Club Se7en also dishes up traditional Pinoy food.

Sisig, a dish made of boiled pig’s snout, lips and ears served with a raw egg on top, is more delicious than it sounds.

Club Se7en, Park Regis Kris Kin Hotel, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed St., Karama; +971 (0)4 377 1210; open Monday to Sunday 7:30 p.m.-3 a.m.; entry 50 dirham ($14)

If drinking, be aware of the culture and tight regulations around alcohol in Dubai and the UAE. Only non-Muslims can drink alcohol, and it’s illegal to consume alcohol on the street or to be drunk in public. Women are also expected to dress modestly.

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