It’s not always apparent in the hyper-luxury narrative, but Dubai has a growing creative class. And 25hours is catering to it with a lobby and hotel that feels like a heartbeat in the middle of a financial district in the city. They are first movers for a coming flood of more lifestyle brands seeking a footprint in the city.
A great hotel lobby is like a coral reef. It refreshes every day with different fish. It is a liminal space, a place for socializing, for rushing out to a meeting, for a nightcap. And increasingly, as the world has migrated away from offices into remote and hybrid models, a place to work.
This comes with some friction: there’s nothing worse than a beautifully designed space interrupted by an overzealous Zoom call, or incessant WhatsApps played out loud. It has been a forcing factor that has seen hotels try to jury rig new ideas for work to spill out into common spaces without disturbing other guests.
The original gangster in this work/play approach was the Ace Hotel in New York when it opened. The management made a decision that it was OK for people to post up and work. And their decision paid off: the lobby of that hotel was buzzing morning to night, and felt like the beating pulse of the city, all while it was in a neighborhood that, at that time around a decade ago, had not yet found its footing. The alchemy in the approach was co-working before it was cool, and the deliberate melange of guests and New York City residents. To the guests, you were among the cool kids and felt slightly more part of the city’s fabric, even for a weekend. To the residence, they were participating in a uniquely New York version of cafe culture: turns out it is inspiring to work from a public place, amidst the murmurs and the whirs of the city.
So, snap forward to today. I was pleased to see that the recently opened 25hours Hotel in Dubai took a lot of these initial cues of what makes a good lobby, and expanded it significantly. Upon walking in, you notice the space: it’s maximalist and eclectic, with countless things to catch the eye. There are vaulted ceilings, and lots of different options for sitting: long tables, colorful Bedouin-inspired pillows, comfortable perches, and countless little nooks. The audience, when I visited on an August day, was a mix of vaguely European looking travelers, Emiratis in national dress, and a blur of other faces spanning from North Africa to China.
But what stood out to me is the considered approach to work and fun: on a mezzanine level, the hotel built out a formal co-working space, around a coffee bar that gives the writers, creatives and co-workers a bit of space from the thrum of the lobby, while also being caffeinated. It’s set above the lobby so it feels removed, but still connected to that intangible feeling of working, and being productive, in a public place.
The unifying theme of the lobby is that of Arabic hakawati – storytelling: there is a fountain with around 5,000 books, and another 5,000 books spread around a karma-centered book trading program. They partnered with Supersense, an analog-obsessed company that has an installation in the lobby with vinyl records and turntables, a walkman station, vintage typewriters and VHS players. Guests can do “an analog upgrade experience” by delivery of a trunk of goodies: watching films on tape, writing from an old-school typewriter, or taking snaps with a polaroid camera.
It’s a departure from the stunning and ornate luxury lobbies of the city, by design.
Josh Craddock, the hotel’s director of marketing told me, “there’s something for everyone. The place works for multiple contexts: people who want to look at art, type out a love letter on a typewriter, or just sit and have a coffee … It’s a soulful, playful environment unlike anything in Dubai right now.”
Craddock shared that the ambition is to reflect some of the city’s lesser-known creative class, and soul that might be lost in the caviar and supercars luxury narrative when thinking about Dubai. “It shows the culture scene and shift in the city; this is the hotel that represents some of the soul and creativity of the city which hasn’t really been realized in the eyes of the consumer visiting the region,” he said.
And the idea of creation is apparent here. The lobby serves as a muse of sorts, but there’s also fun ways to poke and prod at how you work and create. Flipping the script and typing out a poem on a typewriter, or just wandering around the vast spaces and levels and letting the artwork catch your eye. There’s a tangible sense that the place has been designed to nurture ideas and creativity, if not just a good conversation with a friend.
In terms of the business and cultural context, a knock on effect of the World Cup in Doha is the fact more travelers will be visiting Dubai. It’s already near impossible to get a hotel in Doha for the matches, and Dubai is a logical waypoint for the quick hour flight across the Arabian Gulf to Hamad airport. And as a result, more of the world’s creative classes will flock in, and have a landing pad that feels familiar to the best creative cultures in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam or Bangkok.
Of course, the pace of development is fast, and in a booming city like Dubai, it will be clear that Ace, Hoxton, and other lifestyle-centric competitors will be hip to the white space for this cultural opportunity. But the early vision, ambition, and execution of 25hours in the city thus far should carve out some space and loyalty for them to become a creative respite in a very suit and tie-focused district of DIFC.