II’s classic expat financial services industry pubs: Muscat, Oman

When financial services expats are far from home in a foreign land, they periodically like to congregate in places where they can, for a brief time at least, be among their own kind, in familiar surroundings.

As we have been observing over the last few weeks, it seems that there are times when even teetotal financial services expats who are weary of the non-stop foreign-ness of their current posting can find comfort and companionship in their locality’s unofficial, but de facto, favourite expat boozer.

This week, we nominate our choice for the Best Classic Expat Financial Industry Pub in Muscat, the capital city of Oman.

Establishment: Al Ghazal Bar (Inside the Hotel InterContinental)
Address: Shatti al-Qurm
114 Muscat, Oman
Tel: ++968 24 680 000
Mon-Thurs, noon-2am ; Fridays, 2pm-3am; Sat-Sun, noon -3am

Al Ghazal 2 croppedThe Lonelyplanet.com travel website calls the Al Ghazal “more of a pub than a bar”, adding that it’s “a popular expat meeting place, with live music, a quiz night, televised sport and excellent Western-style bar food.” A posting dated some years ago,  on an Omani expat blog, adds that “when you enter the place, you cannot avoid [saying] to yourself, ‘Welcome to England”.

These observations are echoed by expatriates interviewed by International Investment, who note that the Al Ghazal continues to be a regular expat haunt even as it approaches its 39th birthday this October.

As with some of the other expat boozers we’ve written about recently, the popularity of the Al Ghazal pub, which is located in Muscat’s Hotel InterContinental, is partly due to its location. The InterCon, which opened in 1977 and thus is one of Muscat’s older hotels, is located in Muscat’s upscale Shatti al-Qurm district, a residential area favoured by expats that is also near Oman’s government ministries and the embassies of foreign governments. Madinat Al Sultan Qaboos, another upscale residential area and shopping district that’s also popular among expatriates, is just to the south.

It’s also not far from the beach, plus it “has the only 25-metre lap pool in Muscat, [and] a good gym”, making it well-placed to tempt a dehydrated business executive after his or her workout, one Bahrain-based financial services executive, who has been going there over the years and seen it evolve, says.

“The Al Ghazal remains popular with expats, but it has changed in tone quite a lot” since the early days, he adds.

He recall how, back in the day, Muscat’s “expat insurance ‘mafia’” used to meet up there for Al Ghazal’s weekly quiz nights every Monday.

“They had a team called the Dead Budgies – something to do with lying on their backs with their legs in the air – and they took none of it very seriously, except the music round,” this expat executive adds.

“The size of the team varied, depending on who had partners or visitors staying; in the summer months [when temperatures in Gulf states like Oman can approach 40°C, and many locals take off if they can], there were sometimes only three members.”

The Al Ghazal quiz night still takes place on Mondays, a hotel spokesperson said, though he conceded it was possibly more of an attraction years ago when there was less competition for the expat trade, and other hotels weren’t also sponsoring weekly quiz nights.

There are other ways to bring in the expats, though, and one that Al Ghazal has introduced in recent years, as have many other expat-focused  pubs around the world, is large-screened televisions, which it uses to show major sporting events as they’re happening.

The live bands of an earlier era have given way to a DJ, but the pool tables and dart board remain, an InterCon spokesperson noted.

To see last week’s best classic expat pub, in Jersey, click here.
To comment on this pub, or suggest other pubs for inclusion in International Investment’s weekly column on best classic financial industry expat pubs, email iieditorial@odmpublishing.com.

Next week: International Investment’s choice for best classic expat pub in Guernsey.

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