Exploring the creative café scene in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

The Bohemia Art Cafe in Alkhobar. (Image supplied)
Updated 09 March 2019
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Exploring the creative café scene in Saudi Arabia’s Alkhobar

ALKHOBAR: There is no shortage of cafés in Alkhobar. However, the recent boom in creative cafés — combining co-working spaces, Instagram-worthy food, and art — seems to have found a cult following. You can expect to mingle with Sharqiyah’s art patrons, local college students, community groups, and coffee aficionados. In the midst of an artistic movement, here are three distinct spaces that offer coffee and solace for your creative soul.

Inspired by the record-store culture in London, former college students Fawaz Alsulaim and his partners founded Bohemia Art Café, a multipurpose venue that operates as a co-working space, record store, coffee and vegan-food shop, and art gallery. Its minimalistic and DIY aesthetic might leave you underwhelmed, but “it’s all part of the bohemian brand, inspired by the need to be unconventional,” Alsulaim assures me.

Coffee is served in Styrofoam cups, neon lights with catchy phrases blaze over the vintage couches, and college students sit at the long communal table, tapping away on their laptops. The walls are lined with work by local artists. On average, they sell two-to-five paintings a month and regularly host community workshops and art events. The record store is upstairs; at the retro turntable, customers can sample a wide collection of vinyl, from the 1973 “Moontan” album by Dutch rock band Golden Earring to 2007’s limited-edition “Essential Elvis Presley” and 1972’s “Oum Kalthoum.” Alsulaim and his crew source these records at the Haraj, or ship them in from the UK and US.

Date pudding at the Fantastic Cafe. 

“Owning vinyl records, something that you can touch, is a new way (for our generation) to experience music. It makes you appreciate it more than listening to music on iTunes, for example,” Alsulaim says.

Inspired by the Hispanic food culture in Los Angeles, Feras Al-Zamil and his siblings started Cosmo Café. It started out as a coffee kiosk at pop-up events before the team set up a brick-and-mortar store last year. Targeting the 18-to-24 age group, Cosmo Café has all the trappings of a millennial sanctuary. Chic black furniture, clean fixtures, and doodles on the walls are a backdrop to many an Instagram post.

Dessert at Cosmo. 

“We focus on the entertainment side; offering young people the music, décor, food, and vibes that they want,” says Al-Zamil. The café also has a small, but impressive gallery of art. The work of local artist, Yasmeen Al-Kooheji is currently on display. Its art competitions have proved successful too; a recent Cosmo logo design competition went viral and garnered a lot of interest in the community. The café also works closely with community service and charity organizations, for example, by hosting art shows to raise funds.

Cosmo’s wide variety of churros — ranging from popular options like salted caramel and Nutella to seasonal flavors like kunafa and lugaimat — are a huge hit. The café is also a forerunner in introducing acacia bowls to Sharqiyah, with acacia berries imported from Brazil. “Come for the churros and stay for the vibes,” Al-Zamil suggests.

The kunafa croissant at Fantastic Cafe. 

Ahmed Al-Ghunaim and his partners founded the modestly named Fantastic Café —an upscale design gallery and dine-in restaurant. They were inspired by the collective efforts of Dubai’s art community. The café’s signature hexagon- and pentagon-shaped furniture, gold-accent light fixtures, calligraphy-imprinted chairs, and lightweight marble accessories are a delight to see and touch.

“Fantastic is designed to make us rethink the way we look at ordinary things,” Al-Ghunaim says. Each piece of artwork and furniture in Fantastic is curated to high standards of aesthetics and functionality, and all are available for purchase and customizable to individual preferences. To promote and provide a collaborative platform for Saudi talent, Fantastic Café hosts several art shows throughout the year. A recently concluded event had artists from Riyadh and Jeddah participating.

The risotto at Fantastic Cafe. 

“On display is artwork that people don’t get to see often. These are not mainstream, popular or established artists. On the contrary, they are young, talented, visionary artists who need exposure in their early days,” Al-Ghunaim explains.

Fantastic Café recently launched a new menu. Indulgent food — the kunfa croissant, Primavera Risotto, and rose latte — combined with the ambience of the gallery, makes for an enjoyable sensory experience.


How the Middle East reacted to the Game of Thrones finale

Updated 21 May 2019
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How the Middle East reacted to the Game of Thrones finale

  • Arabs join fans around the world at marking the end of the HBO series
  • The show became engrained in popular culture over eight epic years

DUBAI: After eight epic years, 47 Emmys and two dead dragons, “Game of Thrones” has said goodbye to devotees worldwide after having redefined weekly “event TV.”

Having been shown in 170 countries, “Game of Thrones” was the most expensive show ever, with a budget of $15 million per episode. 

The blood-spattered tale of noble families vying for the Iron Throne wrapped up on Monday with the 73rd and final episode of one of the most popular shows in TV history.

The final episode had some emotional and surprising scenes, so it kept me hooked.

Mohammed Mansour, an Egyptian student in the UAE

“I watched it on my phone as it premiered. Honestly, the show had kind of written itself into a corner, so I didn’t really think we’d go any further than what we already expected,” Ali Tirkawi, a 22-year-old American who lives in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News after watching the final episode.

“The finale pretty much boiled down to a horribly depressing epilogue about what the main characters want to do next. I feel that the show kind of robbed us of what we had grown to expect from it,” he said. “The whole sense of danger and anxiety, who’d perish, all that really just disappeared. If I could sum up my feeling toward the final episode: Disappointment.”

Both the show’s name and its now-famous tagline, “Winter is Coming,” spawned a plethora of memes that made their way into the global political discourse. 

US President Donald Trump famously alluded to the show in a warning to Iran last year. He posted an image of himself on Twitter with the line “Sanctions are coming” above “November 5.”

The TV-watching habits of millennials have undergone a radical transformation since the first episode aired in 2011. 

Streaming services have appeared on the scene to rival cable services, and the number of shows available to watch has nearly doubled.

One of the darkest and most controversial primetime series ever made, “Game of Thrones” has been the target of criticism over the years for senseless violence as a dramatic device. The scriptwriters brutalized women and killed children, all in glorious close-up.

The adult themes deterred neither the show’s fans nor the industry awards circuit, which saw fit to make the HBO show the most decorated fictional series in history. Season 6 was the first to move beyond the source material, George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, and carve its own path. Critics said it marked a return to form, but the shortened final two seasons have been more of a mixed bag, with many fans furious over what they consider poor writing and a rushed conclusion of the plot strands.

“The show meant a lot to me, spanning eight years of my life. I can easily recall each and every time I watched an episode,” he added.

Elia Mssawir, a UAE-based entertainment company executive

The Season 7 finale set an all-time US record for premium cable TV, with 16.5 million people watching live or streaming on the day of transmission, and 15 million more tuning in later. The biggest question of all, who would be sitting on the Iron Throne, was answered — sort of — on Monday.

While thousands of viewers aired their gripes on social media, as they did all season, plenty of others thought it was a fitting end.

While millions watched at home, thousands celebrated or mourned the show’s denouement in public places and backyards from London to Dubai. Among them was Mira Kerbage, a 22-year-old Lebanese student of marketing communications in the UK. 

“I felt overwhelmed with everything. I don’t know if this was just because it was the end of one of my favorite shows, or because the story ended but didn’t really end,” she told Arab News.

 

 

“It was bittersweet, so I felt sad and disappointed. It was like the end of an era. You feel empty,” she said.

“I watched it at 4 a.m. in my room, went to sleep at 6 a.m. and woke up at 8 a.m. to go to university.”

Cries of joy, sobs and applause followed the peaks and troughs of what many regarded as a poignant but so-so finale. 

The episode proved to be as divisive as the rest of Season 8. Chief among the controversies was the rapid descent into the mass-murdering madness of Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen, arguably the lead character in an enormous ensemble that has called on the talents of such luminaries as Charles Dance, Sean Bean, Jim Broadbent and Diana Rigg.

OSN, which aired the show in the Middle East with English and Arabic subtitles, had marked the arrival of Season 8 with a social media competition calling on fans to unleash their creativity. 

“From fashion or design to baking, braiding or painting, use your talents to show your love for the Throne,” an OSN press release said in March.

Mohammed Mansour, an Egyptian student in the UAE, was surprised and happy, but also a bit disappointed after watching the finale. 

“Happy because it gave closure, disappointed in the way some characters met their fate. It doesn’t do them justice. But the final episode had some emotional and surprising scenes, so it kept me hooked,” he told Arab News.

“It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in my whole life, although the last two seasons weren’t as great.”

A petition calling for the final season to be remade has now passed 1.1 million signatures. 

In China, the show’s rights holder triggered outrage among legions of die-hard fans — some of whom took the morning off work to tune in — by mysteriously delaying its broadcast just before it was due to air. That did not stop fans from flocking online, with one dramatic twist provoking a discussion on the Twitter-like Weibo platform that was viewed more than 230 million times.

“It was even more intense than a football finale,” said Ewald Klautky, 52, one of about 200 fans who watched the final episode together in Los Angeles.

Elia Mssawir, a UAE-based entertainment company executive, watched the episode alone at home. “I really kind of enjoyed it, and it was mostly because of the unexpected turn of events. I loved the fact that they put every character in their place without wasting any time,” he told Arab News. “This was something many ‘Game of Thrones’ fans felt uncomfortable about, but I really enjoyed it. Not every series or movie has to have a happy ending,” he said. 

“The show meant a lot to me, spanning eight years of my life. I can easily recall each and every time I watched an episode,” he added. “I lived in three different countries during this time, and I took the show with me on the road. One time I was touring with an artist, and I made it my mission to get data to stream it on the bus while going to the next gig.”

The ending of “Game of Thrones” was all too much for its stars, including Sophie Turner, who first appeared as Sansa Stark as a young teenager. She wrote on Instagram of her character: “I fell in love with you at 13 and now 10 years on ... at 23 I leave you behind, but I will never leave behind what you’ve taught me.”