Exploring the creative cafe scene in Saudi Arabia's Alkhobar
ALKHOBAR: There is no shortage of cafés in Alkhobar. However, the recent boom in creative cafés — combining co-working spaces, Instagram-worthy food, and art — seems to have found a cult following. You can expect to mingle with Sharqiyah’s art patrons, local college students, community groups, and coffee aficionados. In the midst of an artistic movement, here are three distinct spaces that offer coffee and solace for your creative soul.
Inspired by the record-store culture in London, former college students Fawaz Alsulaim and his partners founded Bohemia Art Café, a multipurpose venue that operates as a co-working space, record store, coffee and vegan-food shop, and art gallery. Its minimalistic and DIY aesthetic might leave you underwhelmed, but “it’s all part of the bohemian brand, inspired by the need to be unconventional,” Alsulaim assures me.
Coffee is served in Styrofoam cups, neon lights with catchy phrases blaze over the vintage couches, and college students sit at the long communal table, tapping away on their laptops. The walls are lined with work by local artists. On average, they sell two-to-five paintings a month and regularly host community workshops and art events. The record store is upstairs; at the retro turntable, customers can sample a wide collection of vinyl, from the 1973 “Moontan” album by Dutch rock band Golden Earring to 2007’s limited-edition “Essential Elvis Presley” and 1972’s “Oum Kalthoum.” Alsulaim and his crew source these records at the Haraj, or ship them in from the UK and US.
“Owning vinyl records, something that you can touch, is a new way (for our generation) to experience music. It makes you appreciate it more than listening to music on iTunes, for example,” Alsulaim says.
Inspired by the Hispanic food culture in Los Angeles, Feras Al-Zamil and his siblings started Cosmo Café. It started out as a coffee kiosk at pop-up events before the team set up a brick-and-mortar store last year. Targeting the 18-to-24 age group, Cosmo Café has all the trappings of a millennial sanctuary. Chic black furniture, clean fixtures, and doodles on the walls are a backdrop to many an Instagram post.
“We focus on the entertainment side; offering young people the music, décor, food, and vibes that they want,” says Al-Zamil. The café also has a small, but impressive gallery of art. The work of local artist, Yasmeen Al-Kooheji is currently on display. Its art competitions have proved successful too; a recent Cosmo logo design competition went viral and garnered a lot of interest in the community. The café also works closely with community service and charity organizations, for example, by hosting art shows to raise funds.
Cosmo’s wide variety of churros — ranging from popular options like salted caramel and Nutella to seasonal flavors like kunafa and lugaimat — are a huge hit. The café is also a forerunner in introducing acacia bowls to Sharqiyah, with acacia berries imported from Brazil. “Come for the churros and stay for the vibes,” Al-Zamil suggests.
Ahmed Al-Ghunaim and his partners founded the modestly named Fantastic Café —an upscale design gallery and dine-in restaurant. They were inspired by the collective efforts of Dubai’s art community. The café’s signature hexagon- and pentagon-shaped furniture, gold-accent light fixtures, calligraphy-imprinted chairs, and lightweight marble accessories are a delight to see and touch.
“Fantastic is designed to make us rethink the way we look at ordinary things,” Al-Ghunaim says. Each piece of artwork and furniture in Fantastic is curated to high standards of aesthetics and functionality, and all are available for purchase and customizable to individual preferences. To promote and provide a collaborative platform for Saudi talent, Fantastic Café hosts several art shows throughout the year. A recently concluded event had artists from Riyadh and Jeddah participating.
“On display is artwork that people don’t get to see often. These are not mainstream, popular or established artists. On the contrary, they are young, talented, visionary artists who need exposure in their early days,” Al-Ghunaim explains.
Fantastic Café recently launched a new menu. Indulgent food — the kunafa croissant, Primavera Risotto, and rose latte — combined with the ambience of the gallery, makes for an enjoyable sensory experience.
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