28th March 2018: Al Riwaq Art Space Closing. What does that mean to you? Well if you are outside of Bahrain, not a great deal. More than that; absolutely nothing at all. But for the sophisticated, pseudo-sophisticated and just the pseudo of Bahrain, it is something to rally about and ‘Save our art gallery’ type of thing. This place is popular…… or was!
Sure, many will say; ‘Who knew’? Apparently, the art space has been going for 20 years and is very well patronized by artists from a far as well as local artists. It was/is a sort of cafe come hangout, now plonked right in the middle of the ever more suave ‘Block 338’.
There has been a lot of reports emanating from this little gallery come cafe, or ‘Art Space’ as it is called. The real story is never quite told publicly for reasons of just the style in Bahrain with no names ever mentioned. He said, she said, but never the name, but we all know who we are talking about. Well, in this case, Who Does What doesn’t know and no inclination to find out. All we can assess is that the property owner and the occupants no longer quite see eye to eye, so it is his way or the highway as they say. (That is, if the owner is a ‘he’?). Suffice to say that the space is looking for new space and the publicity surrounding their plight has been substantial. Particularly with the local English Language daily the GDN who seem to be championing a solution. Whether or not it stays in the tourist come dining complex ‘Block 338’, which has been specifically built for a myriad of restaurants and the like is yet to be seen. In other words, the artists have kept the story alive with a view to gaining support. Hello! If this little bit from Who Does What helps, you are welcome.
Twenty years ago, this skinny road was impossible to navigate, very narrow two way with 3 restaurants on one side and one on the other. Nobody ever referred to it by it’s name Osama Bin Zaid Avenue, it was just off ‘Love Alley’ in Adliya to most of us. ‘Love Alley’ or Ali if you want the pun, is again a very narrow two way road which is jammed packed every single night with cars cruising up and down to show off or obtain phone numbers of the many ladies who don the make up and drive their own well-to-do cars up and down. (50 years later, we are going to see places like this popping up in Saudi Arabia (smile).
The 3 restaurants were predominately patronized by European/British/American expatriates. The one on the other side seemed to be catering for a more local approach, yet still a little up market, or they thought so. Then on the corner, the whole thing descends into a sharwarma come kebab house of no great sophistication whatsoever. Will they last, Who knows? It certainly adds great character. This area is considered part of the ‘tourist belt’, so booze licences are readily available if the restaurant can afford it. Now, you cannot count on one hand how many restaurants are in this road alone, from Lebanese to Tex Mex and Eskimo. Ok, the last one is a bit iffy.
More recently, Block 338 has expanded beyond belief. For those ‘EX’ expatriates who might have fond memories of say ‘Uppa Tree Cuppa Tea’ in this quaint little enclave. A fabulous diner of immense character without any hoo-ha! Basically it was a Thai food extended coffee shop at one end of this road and a really exceptional Thai restaurant called ‘Hash House’ at the other, both run by expatriates (an old Brit married to a Thai lady). Well that all changed about 10 years or more ago now. Time flies. Hash House has been drowned by a myriad of other cafes and restaurants in an extended road which used to lead to nothing, just open unkempt sand and an Artesian well. Uppa Tree Cuppa Tea was demolished at least 15 years ago too, long before the Internet and Trip Adviser could list it. However, buried in the cacophony of eateries the ‘First Chinese Restaurant’ which was next to it still stands. The narrow road is now a walkway. Shame about Uppa Tree as we called it. This was a shack, a Thai type wooden bench eatery of exceptional quality and extremely reasonable priced food. A small, no frills restaurant attached to a knick-Knack sort of shop with books where it was just the place to go at least once a week. The replacement was a very bad attempt at re-creating a more sophisticated approach. If it aint broken, don’t try and fix it. The other thing, many of the old management will be long retired by now, if not indeed not of this earth anymore.
Now in 2018, this area has expanded to the size of a small town. Open and modern with every type of restaurant you can think of and a lot of it very up market indeed to the extent of ‘exclusive’.
Here we go, one of those old establishments Al Riwaq is no longer. Already it was surrounded by purpose built restaurants and some pretty elegant offerings at that. Where will they go? No doubt, there is room within the block, but the land prices there now are astronomical. Prices in some of the surrounding restaurants have definitely excluded your average Mr. & Mrs and it certainly isn’t a family night out with the kids type of thing. The nearest McDonald’s is well away from this area – at the moment anyway.
However, rumour has it that His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, has taken an interest in the re-location of Al Riwaq. So has the President of Bahrain’s Culture and Antiquities, Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed Al Khalifa. Watch this space…… um…er… Art Space.
Note: In association with GDN On LIne. (Gulf Daily News Bahrain).