Maya Lounge

This offshoot of Richard Sandoval’s refurbished Modern Mexican Kitchen proves to be a lovely Latin location. Latino lands have always been a safe theme for bar managers seeking to exhibit flair. It’s not hard to see why: all those associations with sun and fun, fire and rebellion, refreshing mixed drinks and pounding salsa/tango grooves. The Latin thing seems particularly popular in Dubai right now — within walking distance of Maya are Cuban-themed Salamar at the Habtoor Grand, and Richard Sandoval’s other, bigger, and perhaps better-known pan-Latino restaurant/bar, Toro Toro. Yet it’s the celeb chef’s smaller, newly refurbished Mexican joint, Maya, that we’re visiting today. First opening in 2006, lounge/restaurant Maya made quite a fuss when it relaunched with a new look in February. There was a huge party packed with glamorous types, a haze of ballgowns, bulging tuxedos and cigar smoke, fuelled by private tastings in the venue’s Mexican beverage tasting room. So, unsurprisingly, a midweek follow-up visit to the lounge some weeks later felt decidedly flat. Even the best venues need time to grow, so when we heard the bar had launched a trademark ladies’ night, Senorita Sundays, a month or so after the big launch, we gave it a few weeks to get the word out there and went for another crack of the nut. The venue itself is sprawling, with the bulk of the downstairs interior devoted to the restaurant side of things (sorry, the ‘Modern Mexican Kitchen’). The pleasant bar/terrace was quiet when we visited, so we shuttled up to the relaxed rooftop hangout, which was far more lively, and is where the ladies’ night goes down (those two facts just might not be a coincidence). It’s a great space, set up like a four-poster bed, with a roof yet exposed sides, giving the terrace both an intimate feel, and allowing a breeze and unobtrusive views out to sea. Marked with a large four-sided rectangular bar in the room’s centre, the decor deals in familiar Latino tones and tenets, but doesn’t feel like a cliché. The result is a space that would feel cosy and unstrained on a quiet night, but would rock a party if things heated up. On our visit we never really got either — the smattering of groups of women grew steadily as the beats got louder, but it never quite kicked off to feel lively, despite the DJs fine efforts. Most notably, there wasn’t a single male in sight (except for us). But the word is clearly out with the ladies, so it will only be a matter of time before more men follow. While some of the mixed drinks we tried worked better than others, the menu hosted an ample range, with plenty of authentic flairs — try hops the Mexican way, with salt and lime. The only real problem we encountered was service, with long waits for drinks: one order arrived, only to be removed and brought back again. With a little fine-tuning behind the bar, this venue is a gem, offering a welcome blend of Latino flair with a hint of lounge chic.

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