Through an empty corridor of tourist shops closed for the night, I happened on the center of Doha’s upscale night life, the Souq Waqif. It has dozens of restaurants, some with outdoor tables extending far into the flagstone pedestrian street. Large fans with nozzles attached to the sides blast a mist over the patrons. (In Vermont they might be mistaken for snow machines.) People in Western garb mixed with men in long white robes and ogals — a black band around the head to keep a tailored piece of cloth in place. As they puffed on their hookahs, they lent the scene before me a sense of exoticism heightened by the scent of spices mixed with the aroma of rich coffee.
I went into the Isfahan Garden, perhaps the gaudiest restaurant I’ve ever been in. It was empty except for a few members of the wait staff cleaning up for the night. The manager nodded with a smile when I motioned to my camera. A fountain at the center of a room encircled by an upper walkway reached upward to meet the chandelier. The ceiling and balconies were encrusted with jewels and small mirrors. Much of each wall was painted gold. One banquet room in the restaurant, which features Iranian cuisine, looked like something out of the Arabian Nights. The furnishings of other side rooms were just Persian carpets with overstuffed pillows leaned against plush walls that led up to murals of peasant scenes. Food was served on a separate, smaller carpet at the center.