How the Syrian War Has Changed the Face of Beirut’s Club Scene
Stephanie D'Arc Taylor
Lead image courtesy of Skybar
Beirut is a party town, which a lot of Westerners think is weird. Nearly every lifestyle piece published about Lebanon's capital has some variation of the old refrains: the seemingly strange juxtaposition of “wanton licentiousness and utter terror” recently in the New York Times; similarly, “war is a million miles away when the Lebanese begin to party,” reads a Telegraph headline. VICE has joined the fun too, reporting on “bars offering coke-fueled benders down the street from Hezbollah headquarters.”
The past 40 years have been turbulent for Lebanon: the 15-year civil war ended in 1990, the 29-year occupation by the Syrian government ended in 2005, and a series of bombings, including one that killed former prime minister Rafic Hariri, in addition to skirmishes and general unrest, have plagued the country ever since. Throughout all of this, the country's nightlife remained robust—and still does, despite the five-year-old war raging next door in Syria.
But, club owners and other stakeholders say, recent developments in regional politics have thrown the local nightlife industry into flux. Due to a travel ban imposed by the Saudi government, Gulf Arabs and other high rollers become themselves increasingly scarce on the party scene. Without the influx of cash that they would have previously brought, the city has moved away from eye-wateringly expensive, 2000s-era Paris Hilton-style VVIP bottle service clubs and Oriental-style shisha bars and toward a more casual, less expensive, more street-oriented vibe catering to tourists from the West—who would prefer to spend their Thursday night standing on the street listening to Arabic hip-hop than preen in Versace at a rooftop club.