Dubai’s Reading Cafes

Posted on May 14, 2013


As written for The National, UAE (May 14, 2013)

Another fun round-up for the lit lot.

Book Munch in Al Wasl Square, Jumeirah (image provided by Book Munch)

Book Munch in Al Wasl Square, Jumeirah (image provided by Book Munch)

At a time when a true appreciation of literature is seemingly on the demise, thanks to the doomsayer-esque allure of technology and its de-romanticisation of the written word, Dubai seems to be witnessing a sudden revivalist surge in the promotion of reading. Bearing testament is the noticeable trend of the reading cafe, tying a fondness for prose with the city’s love for an occasion to socialise – a relatively novel culture with a view to revive the inner bibliophile in you.

Book Munch, Al Wasl Square

The family-friendly Book Munch proudly claims to be Dubai’s first literary cafe and with its trendy yet accessible Jumeirah address, fills the void in the city for the “corner store” bookshop concept.

The initial impression of Book Munch is that it is cosy. Warmly furnished in pink and green, the store is divided by wooden floor-to-ceiling shelving into two sections – one half evidently catering more to its younger patrons and to host the occasional talk, book club or kids’ event.

Customers are encouraged either to borrow from the selection of books on the shelves during their visit (provided they follow the “Munch Etiquette”), or purchase for personal collections any that pique their interest.

Inspiration for the store’s book-weds-food concept is credited to Oliver Jeffers’s The Incredible Book Eating Boy, “about a boy who loved books so much that he ate every one of them”. And judging by the fare on display, it’s no wonder the culinary element is endorsed as much as its literary offering. From comfort mains to an interactive children’s menu, Book Munch also serves up picnic baskets, teatime platters and cheeseboards, for the inner gourmand in every bookworm (or vice versa).

• Timings: Sunday to Wednesday, 7.30am to 10pm; Thursday to Saturday, 8am to 10.30pm. Call 04 388 4006 or visit

The Archive, Safa Park

An old facilities building nestled within the flora of one of Dubai’s oldest parks has undergone a face lift and transformed into this sleek, new library space and culture hub that stands today.

Although the library in itself is selective with its focus on Middle Eastern and North African literature, the titles filling the shelves attest otherwise. Books on calligraphy and architecture neatly line the easy-access brackets and the newly launched children’s library encourages its younger visitors to reach out and peruse at leisure – though the books may not stray beyond the four glass walls.

The cafe serves both lunch and breakfast (with organic and healthy options). A monthly programme of activities hosted by the space includes literature/art-themed talks, children’s workshops and even the occasional Pilates class.

• Timings: Sunday to Saturday, 8am to 8pm. Call 04 349 4033 or visit

The Magazine Shop, DIFC

Among the suits and no-nonsense vibe often associated with Dubai International Financial Centre, this enclosure may be small, but it is doing well in bringing a little soul to the city’s business district.

Ask for a menu and you’ll be pointed towards the illustrations on the facade of the pop-up. While the selection of food leaves much to be desired, the list of speciality brews (try the shamaal) is a worthy accompaniment to a leisurely perusal of the exclusive mix of magazines on show.

As the name suggests, TMS is more a peddler of independent magazines (regional and international) than actual literature, but its dedication to reviving another pastime under threat of extinction is what’s noteworthy.

Every aspect of the store is curated, including the music emanating from the lone speaker. Though not a child-friendly venue, TMS does host a number of themed events, from regular Scrabble nights to the occasional curator-talk – the primary intent being to sell culture, not just -magazines.

• Timings: Sunday to Thursday, 7am to 7pm. Call 055 780 4351 or visit

Kuttab Library and Cafe, Uptown Mirdif

To get to Kuttab’s cafe and lounge area, visitors are (quite ingeniously) made to walk through the store’s library – one which hosts an impressive collection of both English and Arabic titles. Although the latter seems to dominate the repertoire, the eclectic selection of English books makes up for any paucity in numbers; Dawkins shares shelf space with an Islamic box set, and Artemis Fowl with Jean Sassoon.

The menu at the coffee shop doesn’t venture past the usual suspects (sandwiches, pastries and the nondescript selection of hot beverages), but the quintessence encapsulated within the lounge is enough to send any bibliophile to their proverbial happy place.

Faux birdcages serving as lampshades hover over a tasteful melange of vintage seating arrangements, amid which a spattering of laptop desks make themselves known. A widescreen TV sits on a mantle above what appears to be firewood and a piano waits to be played. In addition, two glass enclosures within the setting serve as well-equipped meeting rooms.

• Timings: Saturday to Thursday, 8am to 11pm; Friday, 3pm to 11pm. Call 04 256 5691