In a city consumed by the pursuit of the new, it's refreshing to know that the old still has some allure. Built more than three decades ago, the Hyatt Regency Dubai & Galleria still holds a candle up to newer venues. What's more, Dubai's old lady still has a trick up her sleeve.
This is a true landmark hotel, in every sense of the word. It's imposing structure on the Deira Corniche means almost everyone knows of it — it is one of the few places in Dubai one doesn't have to worry about taxi drivers finding and is a convenient point of reference in a city where street names hold little value. It's back on the map thanks to the new Metro Green Line which opened yesterday. The Palm Deira station is near the hotel.
My experience with the hotel probably mirrors that of many other Dubai residents. It was one of the first places old-timers introduced me to on a night out. I remember marvelling at the notion that one need never leave the premises — here is a place where you can sleep, eat, play and shop without walking more than a few metres from one activity to the next.
I've lost count of the number of times I've walked past the ice rink thinking, "That's what I'll do on my next day off." These thoughts would usually accompany me all the way to Hibiki Lounge, where I've ended many a night. Said to be Dubai's first authentic karaoke bar, it's still the only spot fortunate enough — some would say unfortunate — to have been exposed to my singing.
So it was with a sense of familiarity that I recently walked into the lobby — light and airy, the marble somehow conveying a homely feel — and checked into the hotel. Our room, simplistic in design with the understated elegance of natural tones, looked out over what's intended to become the Deira Palm. The view in the morning is impressive enough to warrant a double take.
My companions and I had dinner at Al Dawaar, still Dubai's only revolving restaurant. Boasting an impressive international buffet, the food is second only to the sweeping views offered from the 25th floor. The hustle and bustle of Old Dubai invites an almost nostalgic feel, with the modern skyscrapers that drift by slowly in the distance setting one unequivocally in the here and now.
The next day, we had a lazy brunch in Focaccia, which occupies a prominent position on my list of favourites. Laid out like a Mediterranean villa, it's easy to forget you are in the Middle East as you amble from living room to family room to library, picking up delicacies from the live cooking stations as you go along. The tables laid out on the enclosed terrace, overlooking the Arabian Gulf, add to this sense of dislocation. The hotel also has three other restaurants: Shahrzad, named after the Persian queen of 1001 Arabian Nights fame, features Iranian cuisine in an authentic setting; The Kitchen is its informal international restaurant; and Miyako, Dubai's first Japanese restaurant. There is also an Emirati kitchen, Laylati, that prepares local food on and off the premises.
Club Olympus, the fitness and relaxation centre, has a gym, spa and temperature-controlled pool, besides tennis and squash courts and a jogging track, so there's no excuse to not have that extra dessert.
With all it has to offer in terms of dining and entertainment options, combined with friendly staff and the comfort and luxury befitting its five stars, the hotel lives up to its icon status. This is one venue where the old becomes new — every time you visit.