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Alcohol-free Saudi Arabia plans champagne and wine bars at Neom

Saudi Arabia’s futuristic megaproject Neom is planning to serve wine, cocktails and champagne at a beach resort that is scheduled to open next year, according to planning documents and people close to the development, in what would be a first for a conservative kingdom where alcohol is banned.

The sale of alcohol, if allowed, would mark a risky milestone for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic and cultural makeover of his country, which is aimed in part at attracting foreign tourists and encouraging expatriate business people to live and work there.

Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, portrays itself as an example of Muslim morality, and allowing alcohol which many Muslims believe is forbidden by the Quran could lead to a backlash among more pious Saudis and the wider Muslim world.

However, expatriates say in polls that access to alcohol would be important to their quality of life in Neom, a wide spreading set of developments that is billed as the kingdom’s future.

Pictures in a master plan for Sindalah, dated June, show a bartender pouring cocktails in front of bottles of what appear to be premium brands of vodka, whiskey and wine, and guests sitting around a chilled bottle of champagne and cakes.

Other pictures show women in bikinis and bare-chested men, rarely seen in Saudi Arabia, lounging on yachts and bathing in infinity pools, in another nod to how Neom’s projects could challenge the kingdom’s cultural mores.

While zero-alcohol wines, beers and cocktails are becoming popular in Saudi Arabia, the people close to Neom say the project plans for actual booze, even if the word alcohol isn’t mentioned in the planning documents.

Editing by Tersoo Nicholas