Abu Dhabi exists for precisely one reason: oil. If it weren't for the reservoirs of black gold under the emirate's western desert, the over-a-million-strong (and growing) metropolis would be little more than a Persian Gulf fishing town. Instead, it's a glimmering collection of glass spires set on outdoing its Middle Eastern neighbors. The city's latest exercise in excess is The O1NE, a pleasure palace that constitutes something of a mission statement: The Arabian Peninsula is ready to get down.
The O1NE rises in a silo-size cylinder decorated on a larger-than-life scale by 18 graffiti artists from around the world. Rumor has it that the exterior alone will make it into the 'Guinness World Records' book as the world's largest graffiti wall. But jetsetters from London, New York, Moscow, Beirut, Miami, and Tokyo aren't flocking here for the art. The Cristal-drenched, party-until-dawn atmosphere is profoundly cosmopolitan. In a region where it can be a schismatic issue, alcohol has become a force for unity.
But The O1NE is more than just a club (albeit a club that attracts acts like Sean Kingston and Ciara). The premises have been designed to make splashing out an immersive experience. Travelers who get past the formidable security detail minding the door, find themselves surrounded by 360 degrees of 3-D digital projections. These initially overwhelming images make The O1NE a mobile party: Revelers are in a Venetian plaza then prohibition New York or deep under the ocean. The visuals are so overwhelming that you may find yourself choosing to wear sunglasses indoors just to avoid bumping into celebrities and moguls. And there will be celebrities.
The whole experience is at once baffling and educational. The club represents the idea that modern travelers can check reality with their coats and experience something entirely singular. Whether you like going out or not, this place is worth visiting as a passport to understanding the ways in which the Middle East is liberalizing (booze, dancing) and the ways in which it isn't (a vast wealth gap). The O1NE, like Abu Dhabi itself, is on the cutting edge of privilege.
More information: The entry fee at The O1NE can vary by thousands of dollars based on the act and the day of the week. Etihad Airlines flies direct to Abu Dhabi from all over the world, and Dubai is a two-hour car ride away. The O1NE will soon open a branch in Beirut.