Gilt may seem an odd choice of name for a venture launched in one of Beirut’s least-golden periods of recent history, but Marwan Keyrouz is confident his first solo venture will shine in a lackluster market.
“If you create the right atmosphere and if everything is well studied, from scratch to the final concept, then people will keep coming back to the venue,” says Keyrouz, the owner of the cosmopolitan restaurant and bar which has attracted a steady stream of clients both during the day and in the evening since its opening in March 2013.
Indeed, part of what sets Gilt apart is its ability to appeal to both lunch clientele and dinner and drinks clientele. Keyrouz explains that the secret to creating such a venue lies in the right layout and design, in the concept’s image and in communication with clientele.
Keyrouz is not a newcomer to the hospitality business and was a shareholder in both Monot Street’s Element Club and in Fly, the bar on the Virgin Megastore rooftop in downtown Beirut. In 2008, after his main partner and friend Sami Farhat moved to Dubai, Keyrouz opted to stay and use the experience and expertise he had gathered in his years in the business in Lebanon to venture solo. Gilt is the first of such solo venues by Keyrouz, and one for which he has only one silent investor.
Gilt is located on the edge of Saifi Village, in downtown Beirut, in one of the few buildings in the area that is equipped to handle kitchen requirements and which also houses the wine concept restaurant Burgundy. Its position means Gilt is ideally situated to attract the business lunch crowd from the offices nearby as well as the bar hoppers and night-time diners who are looking for a change from the nearby Gemayzeh and Uruguay Street. Careful consideration went into choosing Gilt’s location. Keyrouz chose Beirut as the hub of the hospitality business in Lebanon and then looked for a venue with easy access to a parking lot — a crucial element in attracting lunch clients who usually have a limited time period. Additional prerequisites included the existence of three facades so the venue could be well lit and a five meter clearing so guests could “breathe”. Designed by the architect Issam Barhouch, who also worked on Element, Gilt’s interior facilitates a smooth transition between day and night.
With a seating capacity of 77, the entrance leads to a classy yet casual bar area which opens up to an intimately laid out dining space with sturdy wood tables and big glass windows overlooking the alleyways of Saifi. The French oak used in the wall paneling is light enough to give off a fresh look during the day, whilst additionally complementing the dim lighting used at night, to conjure a cozy and chic vibe.
Gilt gives off the atmosphere of both a restaurant and a bar where one can enjoy a good meal while listening to inoffensive music and socializing with friends in a relaxed atmosphere. The staff are friendly and informative without being overly assertive and the music is laid-back during the day and more upbeat at night. The menu features a diverse range of cuisine “with a twist” and was designed by chef Maroun Chedid, a regular on the MTV morning shows, and is implemented by Chef Toni Ziadeh, working under Chedid’s supervision. The beef carpaccio is a medley of zesty and sweet flavors and is not to be missed, nor is the delicious spinach ravioli with walnuts.
With an average bill of $65 for two including drinks, Gilt’s clientele range between 35 to 60, appreciate nice design, good food and service, and have a keen eye for detail, according to Keyrouz. The restaurant has an average turnover of a 100 customers on a busy day and Keyrouz hopes to return his $1.25 million investment within two years, taking into account the ups and downs of the country.
Though Keyrouz is pleased with his venue’s success, he is still seeking to fill the 4 pm to 8 pm period which is usually rather calm as, contrary to the European “after work drinks” culture, the Lebanese tend to go out later in the night. To achieve this, he is trying to attract foreigners more inclined to an early evening cocktail and also the 60 and above clientele who tend to enjoy an early dinner. “These people are neglected though they still like to go out and spend money,” says Keyrouz explaining that the only outlets in Lebanon that are active at 7 pm are diners or burger joints.
Keyrouz plans to take Gilt abroad to Europe where he believes New York style restaurant/bar concepts are lacking and would fare well. As for Lebanon, should the political situation stabilize, Keyrouz has a few ideas in mind, including a Chinese or Mexican restaurant or a nightclub.
Keyrouz seems to have a knack for creating concepts that have a timeless appeal and only time will tell whether future venues will have that same charm.