Dubai Diaries: Can your stomping ground stand the test of time?

Dubai - In losing one haunt, the good thing is we open ourselves to the possibility of finding another that triggers the same goosebumps.

By Gopika Nair

Published: Sat 16 Oct 2021, 2:45 PM

If the year was 2019 and the day was Wednesday, you would've found me at Hoxton Bar & Urban Eatery.

Hoxton was to me what Central Perk is to the Friends gang or what MacLaren's Pub is to the How I Met Your Mother crew. There, my former colleague and I would ring in the weekend and talk about everything under the sun — our frustrations, our aspirations, the small parts of us we abandoned in other cities and our shared love for Hoxton.

"It feels like being home," I often said.

Last February, when my partner asked me where we should go for our first date, I nearly insisted on Hoxton even though I knew it meant braving a taxi ride that would cost Dh85. But exorbitant cab fare be damned; I wanted to be in my zone, my haunt, my stomping ground, for my first date with a boy I was giddy to meet.

If I try to put my finger on it, I'm not sure why I felt like Hoxton was Dubai's best-kept secret.

Maybe I was drawn to the classic rock music they played, the likes of Fleetwood Mac and The Cure. Maybe I had a soft spot for the waiters, who, after I had frequented the restaurant enough times, held convivial conversations and made me feel like we were more than just consequential strangers.

Maybe it was the quiet familiarity of the string lights, the lime green cushions and the long wooden benches. Or maybe it was finding solace in the fact that, like me, the lone bespectacled man sitting across our usual table week after week had also found his haunt in Dubai.

But are haunts meant to last? After the pandemic hit and I stopped working in JLT, it became harder to justify a one-hour Metro ride to Hoxton. My last visit was in June, but after many months of desertion, the devotion had simmered. Still, the memories linger.

Perhaps we are meant to outgrow our stomping grounds in the same way we outgrow our favourite songs. The lyric that once magically defined our existence becomes just another line in just another song.

Our haunts, like other facets of our individuality, capture who we are at a specific point in time. As a bookish pre-teen, the place that brought me the most comfort was the Kinokuniya in Dubai Mall. I was there every weekend, poring over books and relishing in the smell of brand new paperbacks. Now, I visit the store once or twice a year and scurry out as soon as I make my purchase.

In shedding a part of ourselves and losing one haunt, the good thing is we open ourselves to the possibility of finding another that triggers the same goosebumps.

These days, I'm on the hunt for a new stomping ground. Luckily, the city is vast, so I'm not sure where I will end up this Wednesday. But for now, I'm relinquishing my best-kept secret in Dubai in the hopes that someone will discover theirs.

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