Bars, wines and champagne… Pictures reveal Saudi plans for “Sandala”

Saudi Arabia plans to serve liquor, champagne and alcohol-containing cocktails at a Red Sea resort located in the futuristic city of NEOM, according to people close to the project and documents for the plans, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper said that the sale of alcohol, if allowed, would represent a risky milestone for the state of economic and cultural transformation led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which aims to attract foreign tourists and encourage expatriate businessmen to live and work in Saudi Arabia.

The newspaper pointed out that allowing the sale of alcohol in Saudi Arabia may lead to a violent reaction from many religious Saudis.

However, expats say in opinion polls that access to alcohol will be important to their quality of life if they want to live in the city of NEOM, touted as the future of the kingdom.

The resort is located on an island on the Red Sea called Sandala and is expected to include a fine wine bar, a separate cocktail bar and one for champagne and desserts, according to blueprint documents dated last January seen by the Wall Street Journal, as well as people close to the Neom development. The blueprints also suggest the establishment of a wine retailer.

Pictures in the Sandala Island masterplan dated last June show a bartender pouring cocktails in front of bottles of premium brands of vodka, whiskey and wine, while customers sit around a chilled bottle of champagne and pieces of cake.

Other photos show bikini-clad women and bare-breasted men on yachts and swimming in huge swimming pools, in another sign of how NEOM projects defy the kingdom’s cultural norms, according to the newspaper.

The blueprint document states that Sandala Island will make the Red Sea a new destination for luxury yachts and will attract some of the world’s richest and most influential people.

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And while non-alcoholic drinks, such as beer and cocktails, are becoming popular in Saudi Arabia, people close to NEOM said the project plans to have real wine, even if the word alcohol isn’t mentioned in the scheme documents.

The newspaper notes that the site of “Sandala” Island, which is expected to open next year, could provide a legal cover given that alcohol will not be served in the main Saudi territory.

The sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and is punishable by penalties up to imprisonment, a fine, and sometimes flogging.

Satellite images show ongoing construction on Sandala Island, which will be located a few miles from the Egyptian tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where alcohol is served.

The Wall Street Journal said representatives of NEOM and the Saudi government did not respond to requests for comment.