Groundbreaking hotel-club concept set to change the hospitality landscape in the Gulf region

Groundbreaking hotel-club concept set to change the hospitality landscape in the Gulf region

The Domain Hotels has finally made public its plans for its first property, located in Manama’s Diplomatic District, overlooking the island’s beautiful coastal landscape. The Domain Bahrain bills itself as a “relevant concept for our time”, a hotel that inhabits a socially charged member’s club. The team behind the project includes a group of international hoteliers with decades of experience, who were seeking to expand on the traditional hospitality model. General Manager, Patrick de Groot, describes it as a “building just waiting for stories. The social element is so ingrained in everything we have created we cannot wait for the doors to open.” While many hotels talk up change that usually translates only to design or restaurant concepts. De Groot is insistent that The Domain is extraordinary, saying, “People are at the heart of our concept. How they work, how they live, how they enjoy life and express their individuality. That goes for our members, guests and colleagues. We have to adapt ourselves to their lives and not the other way around.”

The Domain slogan is simply Stay Work Play because the team believes that in today’s world so much media, entertainment, technology, style and sociability is integrated into our work. The truly lucky and passionate see their business as a pleasure. (Hence, the secondary slogan of, “Business is pleasure and pleasure is…everything.”) Writers tell us that creativity and play, foster innovation and relieve stress. “People are 3-dimensional and not as some businesses parse them up into business or leisure, day or night, old or young, “elaborates De Groot. Executives want to be stimulated by their work and travel experiences. The boundaries blur in their lives and that is why the element of play is always a serious consideration at The Domain.

Play is a core theme but the hotel also bills itself as a “place for grownups”. De Groot explains, “Warm-hearted hospitality means that we welcome everyone, but The Domain has a distinctly adult vibe that is cool and sexy, so it is not a natural family draw. We cannot be all things to all people, but younger guests will be well looked after.

Domain Members will find the venue both dynamic and familiar. Guests can come in for the day, have a workout, a haircut, breakfast, conduct some meetings, enjoy a room for rest/relaxation/privacy, have a business lunch, work with support staff to issue a contract, have a swim, a massage, aperitifs, dinner and then return home without even having to carry any luggage.

Membership at The Domain comes with many perks including three overnight stays, preferential rates on rooms, suites, meals, catered events and retail, as well as opt-ins for spa and health club benefits. But the true benefit of club membership is inclusion in a host of highly engaging events throughout the year - social functions, insider invites to previews, quirky off-site events, business networking gatherings and opportunities to connect with like-minded people from our region regularly. There are no points to be collected, it is a totally integrated and participatory club, rich with surprise and spontaneity. Domain Ambassadors will be selected from the region’s rich pool of tastemakers, business leaders and cultural influencers. This rich collective forms a peer network that will work closely with The Domain team and be free to host their own salons or events. “They are interesting, accessible and put a human face to a very human brand,” says De Groot.

A world first – The Conversation - is a trademarked social media platform allowing Domain residents and members to “speak” to each other, a kind of Facebook for insiders, so they can meet up and make business or social connections in actual time. The aim is to foster a true community and to share adventures and experiences by connecting like- minded people. “We are truly serious about calling ourselves modernist and social. For us, that does not mean simply engaging on Facebook or Twitter, it means moving those social media outlets off the screen and into real life. They are great tools, but we need a bit of old fashioned clubhouse cool. You can sleep here, eat here, party here, try new things, meet new friends.” The hotel’s Social Director, who is fluid and engaging, ensures that the scene is always buzzing and entertaining. “This is about as far as you can get from Julie on the Loveboat,” says De Groot. “It just adds another dimension to looking after your guests. The fact is that we try to help them incorporate play, relieve stress, alleviate boredom and re-connect with other humans. Middle Eastern hospitality businesses always talk about ‘warm hospitality’, but is that enough? Social engagement has been a cornerstone of Middle Eastern life for thousands of years so we are actively adding that to the mix.” De Groot also notes that some guests just want to be left to their own devices, but often just want to be alone amongst the crowd and the buzz.

The sleek, white 36 story box that houses The Domain is uncannily reminiscent of an Apple device and betrays the layers of density inside. This is a narrative element at The Domain, simple in form and execution and complex in the profundity of possibilities. De Groot describes it as, “simple to do business, complex to experience.” “We apply an economy of words and actions to every process to make the organization transparent and easy to navigate.

Because it is a member’s club first and foremost, The Domain has a quirky mix of more facilities to rooms. Rather than the 70/30 hotel mix of Rooms to F&B, for instance, the balance is tipped 30/70. De Groot explains, “We cannot say that we are a member’s club and that sociability is at our core, if we would have a typical hotel mix”.

The boutique property houses 61 luxury suites and 68 rooms and are all graced with wall sized windows and views over the city and the very blue Arabian Gulf. The Domain sidesteps a traditional hotel lobby for an entrance lobby where each guest is greeted by a Domain Manager, who quickly ushers them up to their room to check them in and introduce them to their butler. Rooms and suites are all serviced by floor butlers, who handle everything once the guest is checked in by a Domain Manager. Although butlers seem very old fashioned, De Groot stipulates that they are “Old World butlers with New World ways”. As a team, Domain Managers and Butlers make sure every aspect of the guest’s stay is handled with grace and efficiency. Guests even have the chance to customize many aspects of their stay through a proprietary app linked to the property’s website, called Master of Your Domain, before or during their stay.

The fact that there are nearly as many suites as rooms also hints at the dedication to luxury. Irrespective of size, there is a dash of decadence in each room or suite, in various ways – showers with floor to ceiling windows, handheld tablets, to calibrate climate and lighting and even window seats where the invitation to slow down and gaze out to the sea is implied. Top tier members and suite guests also have access to Domain Privé, a private lounge on the 36th floor, which offers a selection of breakfast items, lunch and snacks throughout the day, personal assistance and secretarial services.

The Domain is also home to a spa and health and fitness center spread over two floors. On the 11th floor Vie offers a Resident Spa, Day Spa and Quick Spa, replete with cutting edge therapies and technologies, designed to relax, rejuvenate or revitalize. This includes total body detox programs, pre or post cosmetic surgery therapies and stress alleviating remedies. The nVie Beauty Lounge is also located on this floor. On the 15th floor, there is Vie Fitness offering male and couples treatments and a large unisex gym. This is also home to Vietality, a quirky good-food café with live botanical walls, as well as Shabab Male Grooming Lounge. For swim and sun enthusiasts, an ultra-cool infinity pool, replete with retractable roof, overlooks the sea and city from its perch atop the 36th floor.

The 12th floor houses 375 meters of flexible meeting space, including three tech-enabled boardrooms, three meeting rooms and a pre-function foyer with a capacity of up to 110 guests for dinner. The spaces are modern, fresh and light, allowing for easy transformations for a variety of small events. The soundproof rooms offer electronic whiteboards, video-conferencing, butler service and daylight or blackout options. The social is integrated here as well as guests are offered a variety of board and puzzle games and turntables with vinyl records to enliven or relieve stress during long meetings. Other facilities include 8 floors of valet-only parking.

The Domain is unusual in its restaurant to rooms balance: With a total of nine restaurants and lounges, it is truly a destination for food culture. Bahrain has long been a treasure trove of original, independent restaurants and The Domain team knew they had to get this right. What results is an electrifying collection, both simple and complex, inspired by the seasons, by the best ingredients and by a host of chefs who are completely and utterly dedicated to their craft.

A Txoko is a typically Basque type of closed gastronomical society. Traditionally only open to male members who come together to cook, experiment with new ways of cooking, eat and socialize, the development of Txokos has and has had a significant impact on Basque cuisine. Many traditional dishes have been rescued or resurrected by Txokos which would have otherwise died out. They have also influenced the development of new dishes as Txoko members frequently experiment with new dishes, ingredients and methods or variations of existing dishes. They are also places where information on the best and cheapest ingredients available is exchanged. This in turn has led to Basque cuisine being both highly refined and affordable.

Txoko at The Domain is a Basque sky lounge crowning the top floor of The Domain and serving up delicious little plates of Pintxos (Basque Tapas). Thirst is easily quenched with a cocktail, a beer, sangria or some pretty scientific molecular concoctions…sheer bliss! During the day this is a quiet place to meet or to read your paper or emails - Afternoons, a novel twist on the Afternoon Tea is served from 4-6pm - After work, it’s the perfect place to network whilst sampling a variety of unexpected taste combinations from the Pintxos menu. During evenings, it becomes a playful venue, a night haunt for Manama’s hip and cool set. DJs spin tunes, lights go down low and tables can move aside to make room for impromptu dancing. Txoko is also the regular meeting place for Bahraini foodies and Domain Txoko members to sample and co-create with the Chef .

Japan in blue and white. Imari is inspired by the shared maritime heritage of Bahrain and Japan and the beautiful sea views from its perch on the 35th floor. The blue and white theme creates a setting which is totally unexpected for a Japanese restaurant and a highly visual synergy between the two island nations where water plays a prominent role in both art and commerce.

A sexy mix of restaurant bar and lounge, Imari is a cool, cosmopolitan Japanese restaurant bathed in beautiful blue and white, reminiscent of the fine bone china produced in the seaside town that is its namesake. Freshly crafted Robatayaki, Sushi and Sashimi are de rigeur and little plates of Izakaya (Japanese tapas) can be enjoyed in the lounge along with Japanese inspired cocktails, Japanese beer, malt whiskies or some Saké from the extensive collection. All this and great sea and city views too.

The 34th Floor
A full-floor French restaurant with a distinct duality of spirit, offering two distinct prospects: lighter French food with crisp, seasonal flavors and classic, hearty roasts -slow, deep, rich, meaty. It is a perfect place for groups with differing moods and mixed tastes, the calorie conscious and vegetarians and carnivores alike. The 34th floor is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Le Sauvage
A meat sommelier is on hand to help choose from curated cuts of meat, which are then prepared on the grill and served with classic French side dishes to share. This is a leather-bound, masculine space where the vibe is proudly Mad Men.

Le Domain [34]
South of France cuisine – fresh, sunny and light, made vibrant with Provencal herbs, olive oil, market vegetables, seafood and wine. An extensive glass Wine Library, Art Nouveau setting and great city views add to the oh-la-la factor.

The Living Room
A big, full-floor social space, The Living Room is the place to eat something savory or sweet, read, connect, shop or just gaze out over the city from its 16th floor perch. It is home to Figs & Olives, a casual duet eatery of both classic Italian and Lebanese comfort foods – sandwiches, pastas, risottos, mezze, antipasti, soup, salads and pastries; The Cigar Lounge, decked out in warm woods, cozy leather chairs and a walk-in humidor, a refined space for enjoying a quality cigar, paired to a vintage cognac, whisky or handcrafted chocolates. The retro cocktail menu is pure Rat Pack style; and The Curator, The Domain’s boutique and quirky twist on the hotel lobby shop.

This is world’s first dedicated social video lounge with live media presented by a DJ / VJ. Anthology brings online content into a playful, interactive setting, with drinks and light bites for lively pre-dinner or after-party fun. The team at The Domain wanted a space where popular online content, like videos, could be collected and shared amongst friends. Collections will range from comedy to fashion, art, cult documentaries, Arab short films and the topical. Anthology can also be used as a media room for corporate events or exclusive product launches and film premieres.

The Deli
This café-takeaway is the place to grab a quick bite, hot drink or creamy cake. The Deli serves inspired fare –sandwiches, salads, soups, shakes, smoothies, ice creams – with the aim to prove that casual food can be extraordinary.

The Domain culture is an area where the team is breaking new ground, certainly for the Gulf Region. Like any five-star luxury property, the service standards are exceptionally high, but there is a definitive move away from over-service to a model of service that is gracious but streamlined, easy and warm-hearted. Colleagues are empowered to make decisions to take away the layers of approvals that often exist in many hospitality models. The culture is one of shared destiny, like a young start-up, rather than easy rhetoric. Incentivization is swift and spontaneous, rather than waiting for employee of the month events. “We want the team to know that we are always aware and that we respect them as individuals too,” says De Groot.

Even the uniforms were created to make the team comfortable and further break the social barriers. “We developed the uniforms so nearly every member of our team could walk out the door and go to a dinner and not feel self-conscious. When people look and feel good in clothing they wear at least eight hours a day, they act more confidently,” says De Groot. The uniforms are highly modernist and each employee can customize them according to the style guides and moods on the day: various ties or the option to wear none, waistcoats, shirts or jerseys and even stunning copper tinged jewelry that was developed with Bahraini designer Azza Al Hujairi.

The Domain name is a perfect marriage of modern and classical. While many young people think of web domains, others will think of it as their hangout, a clubhouse of sorts. People from previous generations will be reminded of beautiful, historical estates or the adventures of pioneers. These references all work well since they meld the classical with the modernist. The grace of the old married with current cultural trends and technologies, all very much what The Domain is about - attitude over age.

Uncomplicated but profound in its offering, The Domain arch serves as a semi-surround, harnessing the myriad possibilities available under one roof, one domain. It is an arch rather than a box in order to let The Domain itself, serve as the foundation. The arch is a classical shape, ancient and respected and meant to lend elegance and gravitas to a new hotel brand.

Color / Typography
The core brand colors are a metallic copper and a handsome pastel blue.
The metallic finish of the copper adds a sense of luxury without being as obvious as gold or silver. It is warm and a natural element- alluring and immediately comfortable. It is valuable but not precious. The blue has a retro glamour, reminiscent of Palm Springs and the days of the Rat Pack. Cool, dreamy, earthly and other-earthly, it forms a chilled background for the warm copper. The 1930’s Bank Gothic typeface was one of the first truly modern Sans Serif typefaces. It is a clean, cosmopolitan and ultimately readable form that works well with the simplicity of The Domain Arch.