It was 1 am on a Saturday night, and I was being served a salad. I was just as confused as you. Mostly because I didn’t order a salad. But it wasn’t the salad I was worried about. It was the cops gathering outside the pub I was in. Apparently the salad was part of a ruse being played on the security forces outside. The waiters and staff were out there, adamantly trying to convince the three members of Internal Security Forces that their pub, was in fact a fine dining establishment. The awfulness of my salad would’ve disagreed. In the end their attempts failed, and the pub was forced to close for the night. Full Coronavirus shutdown was to take effect that next morning. Health and safety meant that businesses would have to suffer.
At its peak, Mar Mikhael’s reputation roared overseas. Tourists would flock to the barhopping street, whizzing in and out of its diverse pubs. They would come to see what the hype was all about. They left satisfied and convinced, that Beirut’s pubbing scene deserved to be up there on the Mount Rushmore of historic pub cities like Amsterdam, London, and Prague. Today Coronavirus has blown out the flame of Lebanon’s brightly lit nightlife.
Which is why we need to work to keep it lit.
Lebanon is not a manufacturing country. We don’t have factories nor do we trade anything of substantial value. The only thing we know how to produce is a good time. If our entertainment ship goes down, we could be kissing our last revenue of hard foreign currency goodbye. Tourism may not be a priority for many this summer, but now more than ever people need to blow off steam. In Lebanon, nightlife and entertainment are considered a sacred right, like voting. It’s all we’ve ever invested in. Throughout the years we never bothered to conquer new frontiers, or establish footholds in technology or medicine. Instead we invested our time in creating cocktails and mixing spirits.
We fell back on the pubs to carry us during the tough times. Who provided us shelter during war? Who filled the void of numerous government vacuums? Who did we rely on to bring us tourists when the economy had no other performing sector? Our Pubs.
Its time we return the favor. We need to treat the pubs as the national treasures they truly are. Lebanon doesn’t have public spaces. We don’t have parks or political squares. All we have are the pubs. They provide a service to the public. It is in pubs where we gathered in groups to discuss political issues and social ones. It is in pubs where we celebrated revolutionary times. It is with drinks that we established a time keeping system, which you and your friends relied on to help you maneuver throughout the night. “Should we leave now?” “One more drink and we’ll go.”
In Lebanon there is a pub for every kind of Lebanese just like there’s a genre of music for every listener. Ironically that’s also how they are distinguished. You have your punk rock pubs, your hippy places, your RnB spots, your socialite lounges, and your Arabic bars. I’ve been to them all. They each provide their own experience, bringing something unique to the table.
I don’t know how they’re going to survive this next phase. I know a lot of pubs, and a lot of pub owners. They are unsure too. When the government allowed the opening of pubs and restaurants for only 30% capacity, the 30% filled up. Lebanese need their fix. They need their escape from reality because sometimes being boxed inside four walls is simpler than being outside in the real world. Making sure Lebanese pubs survive this tough period is about much more than economic wellbeing. It’s about identity; about community. It’s about knowing that no matter what the show goes on. That even the most dangerous of enemies can’t destory what makes you who you are.
During the world war, British scholars and politicians asked Winston Churchill, basically pleaded with him, to close down London pubs, fearing the safety of the public. He replied, “if I close down the pubs, then what are we fighting for?” We are in a war for the livelihood of our country. If we allow ourselves to lose the few things that make us a country, would we consider ourselves winning the war, or losing it?
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