Underground map helps thirsty World Cup fans find alcohol in Qatar

Doha, Qatar – The Mulberry Tavern is located inside a five-star hotel tucked away by a side road in one of the most exclusive areas of Qatar. Technically, it serves a country whose religion prohibits alcohol, but its menu lists more than 100 alcoholic beverages. Its servers serve up $15 beer, $23 cocktails and a $113 bottle of wine at tables adorned with World Cup participant flags. And with Western music about to take off, she’s bracing herself.

It has not been advertised as part of the 2022 World Cup experience, nor does it have any local pubs. In Qatar, as World Cup Organizing Director Nasser Al-Khater said, “alcohol is not part of our culture.” Thus, in the run-up to the tournament, FIFA and the Qatari organizers crossed a fraught line between the host country frowning upon drinking and the sport that consumed it. They will sell them at Fan Fests but not at stadiums. They will promote Budweiser, the official sponsor of the World Cup, but not alcohol as a product. Their relative silence left the thousands of visitors arriving unaware that a few hundred hotel bars and restaurants could cater to their drinking needs.

But behind the scenes, there’s a map kept by an American fan doing their thing for them.

Ed Paul, a Seattle-based salesman, initially created his alcohol map of Qatar as “something good for myself.” Then share it with your beer drinking buds and fellow NFL supporters. And over time, it spread. Over several months, it was viewed more than 320,000 times, Ball told Yahoo Sports, and that number is growing by thousands each day. Fans from England and Wales are using it. Fans from Mexico and South America are using it. It is also used by persons working for the tournament in an official capacity.

None of these officials will promote it, as they remain aware of their hosts’ feelings. The New York Times reported Monday, for example, that Qatar’s royal family has demanded that beer tents be moved out of stadiums to less visible locations. Locals worry that an influx of drunken fans could sweep through a city that isn’t too drunk.

But inside the Mulberry, and at the 195 other bars, restaurants and clubs on Ball’s list, lines will grow, liquor will flow – and no one knows if that will be enough to serve the nearly one million guests expected by the World Cup. .

A pub called The Irish Pub, which will be one of the pubs showing the 2022 World Cup matches on live screens, in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

From connoisseur to curator

Islam’s rejection of alcohol and Qatar’s laws criminalizing public consumption have Western fans worried that the 2022 World Cup will be dry. Qatari law also prohibits the import of alcohol. Grocery stores are not allowed to sell them. There is only one single distribution center, the Qatar Distribution Company (QDC), which requires a permit, Qatari nationality, employer permission, social status and brave the long lines.

In other words, it’s not for overseas fans – so they wondered if they could drink at all. Paul, who describes himself as a craft beer “connoisseur,” was one of them. That’s when he began his research.

He soon realizes that the fears, raised in part because of the questionable newspapers, are exaggerated. Qatari authorities grant alcohol licenses to hotels – which are generally considered a safe haven by Qatar’s most conservative laws. It’s where people go to have premarital sex and, most importantly, drink.

However, Ball was unable to find a comprehensive list of them. So, earlier this year, after he and his wife confirmed their visit to Qatar, he started taking some notes. He realized that a Google Map—which he uses at work to visualize his network of colleagues and clients—could be useful.

The hotel he built at first was very patchy, with about a dozen hotels and a few establishments. Then some fellow members of American football’s largest cheerleading group, the American Outlaws, began ringing with recommendations.

These friends share it with their friends. 20 views per day became 50, then 100. Ball began emailing hotels, bars, and restaurants with direct questions about liquor offerings. Added happy hour notes, contact information, and reviews for many of them. Nearby stadiums and metro stations added for convenience.

It is estimated that he spent more than 100 hours coordinating it. He turned it into a spreadsheet, too. Not aggressively promoted – the Twitter account He only has 79 followers – and doesn’t quite know how to get traded internationally. But now he’s getting letters from people around the world who are thanking him. He doesn’t know how many repeat users among his 320,000 viewers, but it’s clear thousands, maybe tens of thousands of fans will be referring to her as they descend on Doha this month.

A draft beer keg at The Mulberry Tavern in Doha, Qatar, will set you back about $15.  Ice is free.  (Photo by Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

A draft beer keg at The Mulberry Tavern in Doha, Qatar, will set you back about $15. Ice is free. (Photo by Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

A complex clash of cultures

It’s also clear, though, that the World Cup in Qatar will be far from drink heaven. Paul hopes to move on to the many pubs that have responded to his outreach, but he’s worried they might be overrun. He’s worried he’ll be standing side by side with no cell service, instead of sitting back, relaxing, and watching football.

He also had one question of himself as he prepared to leave: “Are the prices as bad as everyone says?”

The short answer is yes. Most hotels with bars and restaurants are upscale. There is also a so-called “sin tax” – a 100% tax on alcohol imports – that makes Qatar the most expensive place in the world to buy beer. Prices are not uniformly ridiculous. Wine is not $113 all around. The Pearl, a man-made island full of luxury, is very expensive and unique. But the average beer cost in Qatar in 2021, according to Expensivity’s Global Beer Index, was $11.26.

It’s unclear how much alcohol will cost at the FIFA-controlled fan festival, which has a capacity of 40,000 and will be open from 10am-2am, according to organizers. The official festivals are an attempt to turn a thriving but often dull city into a month-long one. It will include live music and other entertainment, as well as large screens for matches.

At the matches themselves, beer will be sold in the stadium venues, but not inside the bowl. Concessions in franchises will only sell Budweiser Zero, the official sponsor’s non-alcoholic product. Fans with a lot of the alcoholic kind will reportedly be brought in and held in discreet areas to prevent disturbances.

It’s all about a complex clash of cultures and governing bodies. The ball taught many fans confused by it. Which is why he drew up his map, not as a way to get around the laws, but as a resource that would help him – and now many others – indulge “the limits of legal drinking in Qatar.”


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