When you think of the Emirates A380, it’s almost certainly the onboard cocktail bar and lounge that immediately springs to mind.
And rightly so: upon its debut in 2008, the high-flying bar was like nothing else at the time – and it still ranks as the best in the air.
Tucked away at the rear of the superjumbo’s upper deck, the horseshoe-shaped bar is an exclusive sanctuary where business and first class passengers can mingle, chat over a cocktail or glass of Champagne, and enjoy a snack at one of the leather-clad benches.
What to expect from Emirates’ A380 bar and lounge
Every single Emirates’ Airbus A380 sports this iconic feature – it’s one of several ways the airline sought to reinvent the premium flying experience (along with private first class suites and in-flight showers for those first class passengers).
Shortly after the superjumbo soars into the sky and the seatbelt sign is switched off, Emirates crew get busy ‘dressing’ the bar so it can become the star of the show. On goes the mood lighting, out come the canapés, and a selection of top-shelf spirits stands ready.
The Emirates’ A380 cocktail menu covers familiar favourites including the Cosmopolitan, Kir Royale, Manhattan and the popular Breakfast Martini – a mix of gin infused with bittersweet orange marmalade, Cointreau, a dash of lemon and a splash of fresh orange juice.
Also on the list, and highly recommend as a tipple above the clouds, is the ubiquitous Bloody Mary: the savoury, brothy umami-packed flavour of the tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce are actually enhanced by altitude, so it will always taste as good or even better in the air than the ground.
(If you'd rather avoid alcohol, ask for a Virgin Mary – you’ll get a spicy tomato juice sans vodka.)
Of course, the experienced bartenders can whip up plenty of other creations with the spirits and ingredients at hand.
If you’d rather toast the journey with Champagne, the Emirates A380 bar generally stocks a free-flow of Moet Chandon NV with the occasional guest appearance by Veuve Cliquot NV.
However, that’s for business class passengers: if you’re in first class, where vintage Dom Perignon is served, let a First cabin attendant know you’re headed back to the bar and they’ll arrange for a bottle of Dom to make its way there as your exclusive pour.
You’re welcome to stand at the bar while sipping and socialising, although the leather-clad bench seating is a great place to settle in.
The original Emirates A380 bars are flanked by two curved benches; the 2017 redesign adapted these into communal cafe-style tables.
Emirates’ A380 bar and lounge menu
But the Emirates A380 bar isn’t just about drinks: you can find everything from simple bar snacks (such as olives, nuts, chips and cheese sticks) to bite-sized finger sandwiches, mini-wraps and sweet treats such as macarons and pastries arranged on the counter.
There’s also a special ‘Bistro bites’ bar menu with slightly more substantial offerings which can be enjoyed at the bar.
A typical Emirates A380 bar menu can list sandwiches of tandoori chicken with mint; grilled vegetables; roast beef with onion marmalade, and beef tenderloin with wholegrain mustard.
Hot dishes often range from vegetable harra pie to frittatas and lamb kofta sliders.
Emirates’ A380 onboard bar and lounge access
While the Emirates A380 bar welcomes all business class and first class flyers, it’s not available to premium economy or economy passengers.
Even if you’ve a friend in one of the premium cabins, they can’t ‘guest’ you into the bar.
That’s another good reason to look for the best Emirates business class deal you can find, or consider using your firer points to put in for an upgrade.
The origins of Emirates’ A380 bar
So how did this signature feature of the Emirates A380 come about?
As the Gulf carrier set about designing its first superjumbo ahead of its launch in 2008, airline president Sir Tim Clark was in search of something to elevate the Emirates A380 experience, differentiate it from other airlines’ superjumbos and create an attention-grabbing buzz.
The answer was to channel those glorious golden days of the jet age in the form of a cocktail bar and lounge.
Clark, who had spent a decade working for Bahrain-based Gulf Air before moving to Dubai when Emirates was founded in 1985, drew on his Gulf Air years when mapping out the floorplan for the A380s.
“A bar had been seen on the Gulf Air TriStars in the years before (Emirates) was formed… so you can see where some of the ideas came from,” he told Executive Traveller in a 2019 interview.
To the look and feel of the space, “it had to be a statement, it had to be part of the launch of this aircraft, which was going to include grand staircases, the showers et cetera, and the new business class seats that were coming: so, this was all part of it.”
However, in 2008 the bar was something of a gamble, so the canny airline veteran hedged his bets: in the event the superjumbo bar didn’t capture the imagination of passengers, Emirates had a Plan B.
“I designed the bar at the back of the aircraft on the upper deck, on the understanding that if it didn’t work, we could remove it in 96 hours and put eight more business class seats in," Clark revealed to Executive Traveller.
That’s why the earliest Emirates A380s still had overhead luggage lockers in the space above the bar – to facilitate that quick conversion back to being a business class cabin.
But Clark’s gamble paid off: the bar “was popular from day one, and so we never looked back on that” – and indeed, the next wave of factory-fresh A380s arrived without overhead lockers in the bar area, lending the space a more open and integrated look.
Emirates' next move was to increase the number of drop-down oxygen masks at the bar, in case of emergency.
“As soon as the aircraft was launched on routes like London and places like Sydney, it was clear that we had to increase the number of drop-down oxygen masks to a minimum of 16, because at times, we had even (more passengers there than that),” Clark says.
So is the bar worth the loss of the eight business class seats which would otherwise occupy that space?
Clark maintains that on a typical flight, at least eight passengers chose to travel with Emirates over a competing airline just for the bar, “(and) probably more than that.”
“It’s hugely attractive… incredibly popular, and people go from miles around to get on board the aeroplane. It’s more than paid for itself.”
Evolving the Emirates A380 bar experience
Emirates refreshed its A380 bar in 2017 in a lighter and brighter style which the airline claimed as “inspired by private yacht cabins.”
The dark heavy tones of the first-gen designer swapped for a cleaner, sleeker and more refined look which drew on a lighter colour palette of ivory and (appropriately) Champagne, with bronze and woodgrain accents.
In addition to the communal cafe-style tables, Emirates even added subwoofers so the bar's patrons can enjoy surround sound – handy when paired with the 55 inch TV for live sports – while soundproof curtains keep the din of the bar from disturbing passengers seated in the rear of the business class cabin.
“We have to move with the times, and the bar was proving extremely popular,” Clark recollects. “So we took the opportunity to modernise it… and give it a more 21st century look and feel, which I think we've done fairly successfully.”
“We can (certainly) seat more people and there seems to be a highly convivial atmosphere down there, every time I go through it anyway.”
And while Airbus has ended production of the mighty A380, Emirates won't retire its superjumbos until the mid-2030s – so if you haven’t yet had a chance, there’s still plenty of time to find a seat at the bar.