TRIP THE LIGHT

Lebanon 2013 | TOURISM & RETAIL | FOCUS: BEIRUT CLUB SCENE

With countless listed bars and clubs, Beirut's nightlife is the most thriving in the region. Whatever the weather, the Lebanese like to party.

Once known as the Paris of the Middle East, Beirut's vibrant and cosmopolitan nightlife is renowned throughout the region and beyond. In 2009, the New York Times even ranked Beirut the number one out of 44 cities to visit.

The city's nightlife centers around the neighborhoods of Hamra and Gemmayzeh, with the latter bordering Beirut's eastern downtown area, within walking distance of the city center. Starting where Gemmayzeh ends, Mar Mikhael is the new hotspot for locals, with dozens of bars and pubs transforming this quiet area, which used to be a residential part of Achrafieh, into a vibrant center. Nightclubs, on the other hand, are scattered around the city, with stylish terrace locales a hallmark of Lebanese nightlife.

Tony Habre, CEO of Addmind, a group that owns some of the trendiest and most iconic clubs in the city, including White, Iris, and Iris Beach Club, believes the entertainment business is kept alive by ordinary people who run their own businesses, rather than by major investors, such that the market tends to be more local than big-chain oriented. “Many young people who started from scratch ended up opening their own premises, and hence this adds a personal flavor to the entertainment scene," he told TBY. People enjoying the nightlife today have been doing so for the past 10 years in an atmosphere of familiarity, according to Habre, making for a very intimate experience. For Habre, the main advantage of Lebanon as a regional entertainment hub is the people themselves; “Lebanese people are eager to spend, and love to party." Beirut's tolerant attitude toward alcohol consumption, as well as its fabled cosmopolitanism, make the city stand out from its peers in the region. In terms of trends, there is room for, and interest in, new concepts and locations. The Lebanese people like to dress up and visit plush venues, and there is a gap in the market for such venues that allow people to chat, eat, and party, Habre continued, stating that, “the country is trending toward high-end restaurant lounges and clubs."

Some successful club owners are even taking their concepts and expanding regionally. Addmind is brainstorming ways to further expand in Abu Dhabi, where it opened its club, Eight, back in 2009. It is also interested in taking its expertise to Shanghai, and has recently inaugurated The White Room in Dubai. World-renowned SKYBAR, on the other hand, is expecting to launch O1NE in Beirut at the end of 2013, a new indoor venue featuring 2,500 sqm of graffiti art, created by 15 artists from around the world that integrates the newest technology in imagery and lighting, including 1,200 sqm of 360° projections with 3D mapping technology. This concept recently opened in Abu Dhabi, adapting to the UAE market. As Chafic El Khazen, CEO of SKYBAR, told TBY, “we consider Abu Dhabi to be a virgin market, while Dubai is a bit more saturated." SKYBAR is not only looking at expanding in the region, El Khazen told TBY, “we may yet expand westward."

One of the reasons why many club owners are looking beyond Lebanese frontiers is the impact of the Syrian crisis on tourism inflows. According to El Khazen, the inflow of foreign visitors has decreased dramatically. He explained, “although an onlooker wouldn't necessarily notice anything wrong in Lebanon—people still go out and have fun—people are spending much less than they normally do."