In pubs and bars of bygone times, activities loosely described as “sport” were invariably darts, bar billiards, pool and the odd arm wrestling contest.
For those with longer memories there were dominoes, shove ha’penny and skittles. And in France, patrons would often amble outside for a bracing game of boules.
One Brother Rue, who shall remain nameless, has hazy memories of those days. Curious as a kid, he wondered why landlords favoured an uninviting amber hue for their pub interior colour scheme.
It was not until he began to work weekends pulling pints that it dawned on him – decades of cigarette exhalation had transformed walls and ceilings into a vast nicotine patch. With such rancid reminiscences, we set off to the newly opened Holiday Inn Doha at The Business Park already gasping for fresh air.
Like the Crowne Plaza, it is a property of the InterContinental Hotels Group and, in common with its big sister next door, the Holiday Inn also has a bar with televised sports. However, the similarities end there.
The original Stock Burger Co. opened at the Holiday Inn Brighton Seafront in March 2016 and its latest offshoot is the first to operate in the Middle East. Unusually but mercifully, it is a non-smoking sports bar although there is an outside terrace for those requiring a time out.
“Going ‘gourmet’ is the new burger trend. Think how the likes of Starbucks and Costa cornered the high street coffee market,” observed one Brother Rue eagerly anticipating a different type of beverage as we entered the bright and breezy restaurant on the first floor.
We were warmly welcomed by patient marketing and communications manager Ghada Khorayem, a Doha veteran of seven years, despite being late for kick off. After an amiable chat we were ushered towards an intriguing glass-panelled private viewing room.
One Brother Rue, who has frequented more than a few big-city sports bars in his time, purred with admiration. He described it as being immersed in a mini Imax theatre kitted out with 17 luxury seats worthy of a top-of-the-range Audi.
Nine 55-inch high definition screens are improbably tiled together to deliver an incredibly comfortable cloistered experience. With the ability to sit so close to the life-size action perhaps ‘The Dugout’ would be an appropriate nickname for this exclusive venue. “Book early for 2022,” one Brother Rue suggested.
In the main bar there are 25 screens capable of showing the complete package from beIN Sports, which, apart from underwater show jumping, means pretty much everything. Former bartender Rue remembered one pub landlord’s canny decision in the late 1970s to place a small television set above the optics so punters could watch horse racing during long liquid lunches. “It will never catch on,” shouted one regular above the sound of crackled commentary.
Now, perhaps the most difficult task for restaurant manager Gino Kuriakose will be ingratiating himself with partisan football fans on a busy Premier League Saturday without having to issue a red card.
Gino has come a long way – well, from the splendid Rodizio at neighbouring Crowne Plaza to be precise. He recognised us through our disguises immediately so we agreed to eliminate bank robbing as a possible career move. Our genial host proceeded with great panache to ensure a most pleasant evening.
Indeed, Gino’s recommended starter selection was a tactical success. We shared a fulsome garden grilled flat bread topped with plenty of pungent blue cheese, Portobello mushroom, caramelised onions, roasted red peppers and balsamic vinegar. We highly recommend the homemade flat bread selection and a perfect one-two punch can be landed with fire cracker shrimp and sweet chili sauce.
After a short break to glance at the baseball being broadcast from Philadelphia, we were in main course mode and that, of course, involved burgers. Regular buns bought in supermarkets are often not fit for digestible purpose so it was gratifying to be offered home-baked potato buns that proved to be deliciously light.
One Brother Rue, presumably in the middle of some serious triathlon training, decided a single spicy jalapeno burger with chipotle mayo, sliced jalapeno, cheddar cheese and onions would suffice.
However, despite our robust protestations, Gino adopted a full-court press strategy with the side dishes by insisting we try all of them. Victory was eventually his, so along came half portions of French fries, parmesan-panko onion rings, coleslaw, mixed salad, sweet potato fries and charcoaled corn on the cob.
In the meantime, Rue Junior was busily “building his own burger” from the menu as if he had suddenly rediscovered a liking for LEGO. Naturally he chose beef (Angus) although chicken and vegetable are alternatives and he opted for a double despite being tempted by the restaurant’s appropriately named “Insane” quadruple burger.
Goat cheese received the nod among the cheeses, tomato and pickles among the vegetables and KGB (Killer Good Burger) among the sauces. Grilled Portobello mushrooms and grilled onions were added just in case the finished product did not reach the required height.
Consuming all of the above required extra time because hardly a morsel was missed. Then ever-attentive Gino decided a penalty shoot-out would be a crowd-pleaser so he took great delight in bringing two mason jars packed with excellent Key Lime Pie and Carrot Cake. It would have been rude to decline so a few minutes of injury time were added.
Overall, we agreed, Stock Burger Co. had raised the bar significantly in Doha’s niche sports division. Promotion surely beckons and we left thinking that finally Brighton and Doha appear to have something in common. “Well, the promenade could be mistaken for the corniche after a long night of south-coast gaiety,” remarked one Brother Rue before the shrill of the final whistle could be heard throughout the hotel.