Back in the day - and by that, I mean even just 7-10 years ago - the culture of people working from cafes was mainly reserved for freelancers, entrepreneurs and startup junkies. I still remember when MAKE Business Hub was launched in Dubai Marina's Al Fattan Towers - this workspace that boasted plenty of meeting-friendly tables where you could spread a whole load of papers out, while also boasting lots of little desks and cubicles for the more antisocial worker, along with tasty and affordable food and drink (and coffee, always coffee) and, perhaps most importantly, a good free Wi-Fi connection (that doesn't require hourly password-via-coupon-code-renewals, like I used to have to grit my teeth through when I was temporarily freelancing almost a decade ago and tried to base myself out of the Icon lounge at the Radisson Blu Media City.)
Fast forward to 2017, and the sight and concept of people working from their laptops doing remote (or as it's often called, "location-independent") work is now a much more common sight. Perhaps it's the rise of the social media influencer and blogger culture, perhaps it's the growth in the amount of people maintaining a side-hustle outside of their day job (more on those two topics in another post on another day!), perhaps it's the improved technology we now have that allows to work more easily from anywhere and anytime, or perhaps it's a mental and social shift in attitude wherein more people understand that happy workers make for better workers, and that everyone works at a different pace and is stimulated by different environments - and we're often better off allowing people to work where they're buzzing more, as it makes them more productive. Work smarter not just harder, and all that jazz.
Whatever the case, it's a shift I've welcomed. Of course, I understand that not everyone has the luxury of being able to make a beachside cafe their "office". But if you are among the increasing masses of laptop-toting cafepreneurs, finding new ground to cover is always welcome, whether you simply have no idea where to go, or you're just looking for a change in environment from your usual haunt. Here are a few that I've enjoyed.
1. Single Fin
Arguably one of my favourite places in town with or without the laptop work, this cafe based inside the Surf House Dubai's original Jumeirah hub (they've got a second location at Nikki Beach now, but their in-house cafe, Single Fin, only exists at the Sunset Beach spot) is basically my second home. Sure, I may be biased - I'm friends with the founders and have been coming here to SUP and surf for a very long time, but ever since they turned their former coffee bar into a thriving full-service cafe, I've found myself here even more often than before (if that were even possible). They have a reliable and fast WiFi connection with the straightforward password imprinted in the wooden walls (so you don't need to type in obscure combinations of letters, numbers and symbols that you have to ask the staff for every time you hook up a new device or refresh your passwords), the coffee is great (and they have Nitro cold brew), the staff are friendly, and they serve wholesome, fresh food that offers both healthy options (from poke bowls to salads), epic breakfast (including avo on toast, steak and eggs, and arguably the best acai bowl in town), and cheekier options (including lip-smackingly good burgers and you'll-want-another-cone ice cream), all in decent portion sizes and for affordable prices. What's not to love? Almost best of all (for ocean-lovers anyway), if you need to take a break, renting a paddleboard and popping down the road for a quick SUP session is a great way to refresh your brain.
Another great fitness-and-food option, this spot is the brainchild of former model and wellness-focused chef Paul Frangie. The space reflects their commitment to your inner and outer health, offering wholesome meal options while you can work your body at Parkour DXB's space located inside their same warehouse, along with Urban Yoga's classes upstairs for body and mind. While the portion sizes are often a little too small for me (what can I say, I get hungry - and this makes the place always wind up being a little pricier than I'd like if I eat here), the food is delicious and fresh, made with high quality ingredients, the space is sunny and bright, and there's free WiFi. My only qualm is the lack of plugs, so I'd come with your computer fully charged if you intend to use it - but it's still one of my favourite pitstops for work and a bite around Al Quoz.
3. Tom & Serg
This hipster favourite has an ever-changing menu (so you don't get bored season after season), plenty of seating areas ranging from tables to some comfy couches, good food and great coffee, and plenty of light. While it can be a little on the pricier side, the portion sizes are decent and the staff are friendly without nagging you if you stay for a longer time, and are very welcoming to regulars.
4. Roseleaf Cafe
This hidden gem is tucked away in the Dubai Garden Centre and while I used to struggle to find healthier eating options outside of the standard cafe fare that accompanies their great coffee, they've now expanded their menu to serve up everything from acai bowls to superfood-focused meals and chia pots. The staff are friendly, there is free Wifi available, and it's got a nice homey buzz to it that feels cozy and like your own little secret hideaway.
5. Life n' One
This vegan cafe has been described by some as pretentious - perhaps because their food is admittedly quite expensive for what it is, although it is tasty and they have plenty of healthy options - but the garden space is beautiful and it's a very welcome sight during cooler weather seasons. To be able to sit in a comfy garden with free WiFi and comfy seating - and occasionally pet the resident cats as they come around to say hello - makes for a nice change of pace in the usual cafe atmosphere, especially when you're looking to brainstorm with friends.
6. Cafe Rider
This quiet spot in Al Quoz is hard to find at first, but once you do find it, you'll be glad you did - it's quiet and spacious, with comfy seating, good food and great coffee, and an unintrusive crowd. I do often wish they had more food options, but what they do have is tasty and affordable, and the staff are friendly to boot.
7. Joe & Sons
If Cafe Rider is hard to find, then this one is like playing Where's Waldo - it's a bit of a mission the first time, but once you've located it for the first time, it's hard to forget. Inside, a few comfy seats in a cool space that's basically a retail store (for the Deux Ex Machine brand), they also serve great, authentic Mexican food, have good tunes going and a chilled vibe, and a room in the back where they occasionally screen awesome surf films on event nights.
8. Wild & The Moon
If you're going to pop into this cafe for work, you can make yourself comfortable downstairs, but I find the upstairs area much quieter and less distracting if it is open and not hired out for a private event. The acai bowls and juices here are delicious (albeit on the pricey side), and the food is healthy, detox-friendly vegan fare. This is more of a quiet place to get work done for a little while, rather than one to hunker down with a team and brainstorm in, though, in my opinion.
9. Clinton Street Baking Company
These guys may be famous for their chicken and waffles and epic pancakes, but they do offer comfy seating, a quiet and cozily calm atmosphere in which to work, and delicious savory meals - don't worry, there is a healthy option or two on the menu (the kale salad with grilled chicken is one of the best in town, just ask anyone who has tried it) - along with bottomless coffee.
10. Urban Bistro
Urban like its name, yet cozy at the same time, this awesome Media City spot is so good that it's worth the trip to even if you're not based in Media City. Brilliant avocado and toast (it's hands down my favourite in the city), not to mention an ample menu of delicious options that range from lighter to heavier (but with plenty of healthy options), the food is delicious and the service is top-notch when it comes to friendliness and attentiveness. It's also spacious enough to never feel caved in, has couch areas available (with books and magazines to flick through) if you want to take a break, and they also host a number of interesting events (ranging from Creative Mornings talks and book club gatherings to puppy brunches - yes, a brunch that involves people bringing actual puppies with them (their dogs, not random puppies) - and BBQ afternoons) that are usually free to attend and open to the public. Oh, and their lemon tart is a must-try - it just might ruin you for all other lemon tarts forevermore.
Photographs courtesy of Single Fun/Surf House Dubai & Hapi