Where to Drink in Doha, Qatar
After a day shopping at souqs and glittering malls, get your drink on Doha style
Doha is hot, literally. With temperatures that can soar to more than 100 degrees and humidity of up to 95 percent, the rehydration situation can be serious. Sure, all the malls, hotels, restaurants, and offices are air-conditioned, but when the mercury seriously skyrockets, the best way to beat the heat is with a quaff or two… or three.
There is a wide array of drinks available in Doha — coffees, teas, juices, and sodas — but as a Muslim country, alcohol is not condoned for the natives. So how do the Qataris get their buzz on without alcohol? Coffee.
Coffee is an essential tradition in Qatar. Doha is replete with Western coffee chains from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to Costa Coffee to Starbucks, but locals drink Arabian coffee. Arabian coffee uses a gently roasted bean spiced with cardamom and can be sweetened or served with dates. It is served in shot-glass-sized cups.
For special occasions there is qahwa helw, literally "sweet coffee," a vibrant orange-hued mélange of coffee, orange zest, cardamom, and a couple of pinches of cinnamon and saffron. You can find good Qatari coffee at most of the Western hotels, including the coffee bar at the Oryx Rotana. But for a more authentic experience, visit one of the traditional local coffee shops in the Souq Waqif. In particular amid the maze of the shops and stalls, there is the Majlis al Dama, where Qatari men play dama, a board game similar to checkers, and sip coffee into the night.
Besides coffee, karak chai, or "strong tea," is a national obsession. To make karak chai, loose tea is added to boiled water, and then evaporated milk and sugar are added until the water boils again. It is then served steaming hot in a Styrofoam cup. You can find karak chai at many shops, especially on Al-Matar Street, or the upscale Chapati and Karak shop in Katara Village.
In addition to coffee and tea, street vendors, souq stalls, or mall shops sell juices and soft drinks. One of the most popular is karkadeh, a sweet hibiscus infusion served hot or cold. Karkadeh is thought to have special medicinal attributes and is an especially popular drink at Ramadan to break the fast. Other exotic juice selections include avocado smoothies, mint and lemon mixers, and extravagant mocktails served up at the big hotels.
You can get an alcoholic drink if you are Westerner, but there are restrictions. After arriving in Doha, your baggage is scanned for contraband like alcohol, pork products, and pornography. Alcohol is available for purchase at the Qatar Distribution Center (QDC), if you are working in the country and have a "residency permit." To buy liquor, you need to provide a statement from your employer, and your purchase amount is based on your salary. After purchase, you must keep your drinks under wraps and head straight for home. Public drinking is banned: no beach brews, no tailgate parties, and no 40-ouncers in the park. Needless to say, there really is a zero tolerance policy for drunk driving — anything over zero on a Breathalyzer is an offence.
Besides buying alcohol retail, Doha visitors can show their passports for entrances to any of the dozens of bars and pubs within the international hotels that range from sports bars to jazz clubs to nightclubs with dancing.
The World Cup will be held in Doha in 2022, and for now The Irish Harp at the Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Center is the place to watch football, drink cider, and eat (veal) bangers and mash.
The Champions sports bar at the Renaissance Doha City Center Hotel is an American-style sports bar with more than 40 big-screen televisions and a large projection screen, but unlike most American sports bars in the U.S. where smoking has been banned, there is a pretty thick waft of tobacco smoke here.
For drinks with a view, head to the Sky View bar on the 15th floor of the La Cigale Hotel, which offers panoramic views of Doha and the West Bay.