Beirut: The Middle East's party capital

Story highlights

  • Beirut's vibrant, cosmopolitan nightlife is renowned throughout the region
  • After 15 years of civil war, Beirutis have a "seize the day" attitude, say locals
  • It also reflects the liberal, tolerant outlook often found in this diverse port city
In 1984, in the midst of Lebanon's civil war, Naji Gebran started hosting regular gatherings at his Beirut beachfront apartment for the purpose of "musical therapy."
Weary and traumatized from the conflict that had divided their city -- and would claim some 150,000 lives over its 15 years -- people would come to his apartment to lose themselves in a night of jazz, blues, funk, soul, classical and Arabic music.
"They used to come because of the music, to forget the war," said Gebran. "We used to do this for peace."
The party nights were an important outlet, he said, as during the war years there were few other options.
"My friends had nowhere to go," he said. There were two or three clubs in Christian east Beirut, the same in the city's Muslim west.
"But they were very constipated. Very good dress, the same music all the time," he said. "It was very commercial, easy listening, everywhere you go."
Beirut has come a long way since then.
After dark, the city comes alive: A balmy playground of chic nightclubs, rough and ready dives, stylish rooftop bars.
The hip, hedonistic scenes in the fashionable neighborhoods of Gemmayze or Hamra are unlike anything to be found elsewhere in the Arab world -- and can be an unexpected find in a country in which austere Islamic militant group Hezbollah forms part of the government.
"It is the nightlife capital of the region," said Naomi Sargeant, managing director of city guide Time Out Beirut. "It's cosmopolitan and has this East-meets-West feel. I don't think there's anything on par."
A fixture of the Beirut scene is Gebran's nightclub, B018. Opened in 1994, and named for the lock-code on the door of his old apartment, the club has helped to usher in a more cosmopolitan, vibrant nightlife in the aftermath of the war, he said.
"When I opened the club, artists start to go out, lesbians and gays started to go out," he said.
Beirut's vibrancy is partly an expression of a Lebanese lust for life, a determination to seize the day after having endured years of war and associated traumas, said Sargeant.
"With all the issues you've had here, people just want to enjoy life. It tends to be: let's just live it up today. We can worry about the rest tomorrow