It’s rather disarming, drinking this high up — 122 floors, to be exact. The Burj Khalifa is, in fact, the tallest building in the world, and it’s hardly a surprise that it’s located in Dubai, a futuristic oasis in the desert that seems to be on a perpetual mission to make everything bigger, higher, faster and more ostentatious than anywhere else on earth. For the record, the structure actually tops out at 160 floors, or 2,716 feet.
To reach its flagship bar, called At.Mosphere (yes, it’s spelled like that) — in an elevator that takes less than 90 seconds — one doesn’t just stroll into the Armani Hotel at its base. Reservations are essential (yet easy to obtain), and you’re just as likely to get a nosebleed from the prices as you are from the altitude. I order up a dry Bombay Sapphire martini — my fallback when I’m feeling fancy, as I do here — although I’m too scared to ask how much it costs. For now, let’s just enjoy the view.
In the distance is the Burj al Arab, shaped like the sail of a local boat called a dhow and dubiously promoted as the world’s first seven-star hotel, whatever that means. Then there’s the Dubai Mall with its own indoor ski slope. And directly below that is a man-made lake where a mesmerizing dancing fountain show takes place every half hour, dwarfing the similar spectacle at the Bellagio in Las Vegas (though they were designed by the same firm).
It’s hard not to be impressed up here. But if you have vertigo in the slightest, then perhaps this place might not be for you. For the rest of us though, it’s quite a trip, and any trip to Dubai should include a cocktail in the glistening building’s lounge, the world’s highest (of course). But don’t expect anything magical to come across the bar. I keep to something simple and classic: an aviation, which seems like an appropriate, if a little clichéd, drink to enjoy in the sky. And there’s always champagne, never a bad choice. If, that is, you can afford it. A glass of Ruinart, the bar’s cheapest option, will sting you to the tune of about $55 U.S.
The aviation cocktail is a doozy of a drink. And like everything antiquated in the booze world, it has experienced its own renaissance recently. A bracing mix of gin (here the menu proudly states that they use “premium gin”), maraschino (a delightful funky cherry liqueur from northern Italy), crème de violette and lemon. When made well, it’s a serious drink that deserves our attention. When made badly, it can be overly floral and reminds me of the type of soap Grandma might have used.
Some of the bar’s signature concoctions sound a little strange for my liking. There’s something called a Skywalk, a vodka-based number that starts off safely, with pineapple and cardamom. But things get weird when parsley, coffee, sambuca and limoncello are inexplicably thrown into the shaker. If that’s not enough to scare you back to reality, then the Garden of Eden boasts cherry tomatoes, honeydew melon, strawberry, rosemary and Himalayan salt. In the same glass.
I do have a sip of something called a Green Praline, a dessert-style cocktail if you hadn’t guessed already, with vodka, homemade pistachio cream (like Baileys, but better), white chocolate, mascarpone cheese and baklava. It’s probably not to everyone’s liking and wouldn’t normally be to mine, but it is strangely addictive (and rather alcoholic), and before I know it, it’s vanished, like the fading sun.
Sunsets in these parts are something special, casting a soft amber glow over the sandy terrain. There isn’t a better place to witness this, as the Arabian Gulf fades into darkness, than at sundown at the highest bar in the world. And, fuck it, order the champagne. Moments like this call for something extravagant. You’re in Dubai, after all.
Originally created by Hugo Ensslin — Hotel Wallick, New York City — and published in his Recipes for Mixed Drinks (1916)
1.5 ounces Bombay Sapphire gin
½ ounce Maraschino liqueur
¼ ounce crème de violette
¾ ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup (optional)
1. Shake all ingredients with ice.
2. Strain into a frozen cocktail glass.
3. Garnish with three brandied cherries — skewered, resting across the rim.
4. Break a lemon twist over the surface and discard.
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