The rooftop and outdoor bars concept is nothing new to Lebanon’s nightlife. It took off almost 14 years ago with the original SkyBar on Palm Beach Hotel’s rooftop, which created a lasting buzz among Lebanese socialites. But the introduction of the indoor smoking ban in September 2012, coupled with the Lebanese penchant for a puff seems to have enhanced the appeal of such venues and made them necessary for nightlife owners to stay in the game. “It is now even more the trend to be outdoors in the summer especially since the start of the smoking ban,” says Michel Elefteriades, owner and founder of Music Hall which opened its outdoor location in Beirut Waterfront District last month.
Venues that already have outdoor terraces, such as the bars dotting downtown Beirut’s Uruguay Street, have become even more popular during the summer season. This year five new bars opened there during the early weeks of the season in anticipation of the additional inflow of clients. A quick walk down the strip on any day of the week reveals full terraces in almost all venues, with people crammed in shoulder to shoulder.
Yet Toni Rizk, managing partner of two new bars that have recently opened on Uruguay — Nu and Gatsby — believes the success of such bars during the summer season cannot be taken at face value, as terrace clientele tend to be transient and care more about being outdoors than the venue itself. “All the terraces on the street are almost full, but go into the bar itself and there is practically no one. You cannot measure the success of a new venture until the winter season because of this,” says Rizk.
Owners of venues with no outdoor area have had to think creatively in order to weather the summer storm. Some have adopted the strategy of closing down their venues for the summer and hosting weekly outdoor parties on rented grounds instead. The sheer numbers that attend weekly parties make it a profitable venture for these pub owners, who would not have attracted such crowds had they relied on keeping their indoor venue open all summer long.
Music Hall has had another strong summer
Decks on the Beach, which hosts international DJs every Friday at Sporting Beach Club in Ain El Mreiseh throughout summer, is one of the most successful weekly outdoor parties. It was started last year by the owners of nightclub Behind the Green Door (BTGD), which shuts down in summer. “When we understood that BTGD wouldn’t be working as well in the summer, we had to find a location and we knew the owners of Sporting Club so we proposed a formula to them, and they accepted,” explains Olivier Gasnier Duparc, one of the founders of BTGD.
While last year’s parties saw peaks and dips in numbers, this year’s Decks are performing more solidly with a stable average of 1,500 people a night. Learning from last year’s experiences, this year’s parties started earlier in the season (in May) and will end whenever the weather deteriorates. According to Gasnier Duparc, Decks is successful because of the positive energy and the naturally breezy climate of Sporting Club. The average bill for a Decks party is also more reasonable than that for a night on a rooftop bar — $20, drinks not included.
Others with indoor venues have chosen to set up a more permanent — albeit still seasonal — base and have opened up “summer only” venues, which operate until early October.
The most popular of these temporary venues this year is The Garten, which is run by the group behind Hamra underground nightclub Uberhaus, and opens every Saturday in a purpose-built venue next to Biel. The opening night of The Garten, which caters mainly to a younger crowd, had 2,800 people in attendance with an average of 2,000 every week since.
Arriving a little late to the party season was the outdoor venue for Music Hall, which has made up for lost time and is already fully booked on its operating days — Wednesday through Sunday— until the end of September. Following the same structure of the indoor Music Hall, Elefteriades adopted the concept of an opera house among the chaos by using the rusty containers and sandy dunes on the premises to his advantage and incorporating them within the décor.
Investments in such venues are typically low as the land is rented on a seasonal basis and the staff and often the furniture are borrowed from the original venue. Nabil Hayek returned his $150,000 investment in Garden State, a new open-air bar in Sin El Fil, by the end of August. With an average of 200 people on weekdays, Hayek, who owns indoor bar Secteur 75, is satisfied with Garden State’s performance. Thursday is their busiest day, as on the weekends bigger parties draw the crowds away.
Owners of seasonal outdoor venues are using the downtime of their indoor venues constructively. Elefteriades talks about plans for a fully renovated Music Hall in Starco as they have been open for 11 years with the same décor and it is “time for a change,” he says. Meanwhile Gasnier Duparc plans to incorporate a small outdoor patio area at BTGD to prepare for after the summer. “We underestimated the effect of the smoking ban last year so this summer we are using the closure time to renovate Behind the Green Door into a completely different place.”
So long as the sun shines, outdoor venues will continue to be popular with Lebanese partygoers, but the winter season will show which venues were built to last.
Note: This article originally said that Garten was open Fridays and Saturdays, this was incorrect. It is only open Saturdays.