Beirut Snapshots: Valentine’s in a gay bar and the invisible man

I’ve had a rather exhausting but very fun week reviewing three plays in Arabic, followed by a lazy weekend which was spent not partying but doing rather mundane but necessary things. I spent yesterday cleaning the house, which in my absence has become a cess-pit, then baby-sitting last night and today cleaning all my clothes, which over the past couple of weeks have over-flowed the basket and made their way in a steady mass across the floor forming an impregnable fortress between bed and door.

Everitte went to the post office again on Friday and was once again served by Shireen. Having not seen Noor in a long time he inquired as to her whereabouts and was told that she had left. “She told me you upset her very much,” Shireen said to him. “But she wouldn’t tell me why.”

It seems the post office mystery is destined to remain unsolved. On the bright side Shireen seems to have conquered her hatred of Everitte and now deigns to serve him again, so some good has come of Noor’s unexplained departure, which may or may not somehow be Everitte’s fault.

All of my writing for work recently means that I never got round to writing about the rather wonderful Valentine’s Day meal that Everitte and I enjoyed last week. We decided where to go based on an article one of the girls at work for writing for the paper, in which she suggested a restaurant in Hamra called ‘Bardo’ as a nice place to spend Valentine’s evening, with a set menu of three courses each and a bottle of wine for $50.

Since price is a deciding factor at the moment when it comes to going out we thought this sounded like a great deal, and managed to book ourselves a table for 9.30pm (the first seating in most Lebanese restaurants).

On the way to the restaurant, which we had never been to, we bumped into an American girl we had met back when we first arrive in Beirut. After a short chat we told her where we were going, to which she responded “Bardo? Isn’t that a gay bar?”

Slighty taken aback we told her that we didn’t think so, and continued on our merry way wondering what we were going to find.

When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised. Bardo is more of a bar than a restaurant, with a central bar area and raised tables, and side room with more traditional dining tables, a lot like Secteur 75 the place I used to work.

A table had been reserved for us in the main bar room, but neither of us like sitting on bar stools to eat, so we asked to move to the tables by the entrance which were quieter and more secluded, each with a candle and a red rose on the table.

In honour of Valentine’s Day the restaurant was full of red helium balloons, which covered the ceiling and were each tied to a long red ribbon which trailed down to the floor, filling the room with red strings every foot or so.

Having cleared enough ribbons out of the way to sit down we were brought a surprisingly good bottle of red wine by the very friendly waitress and then settled down to look around at the other clientele, more or whom were arriving all the time.

A cursory sweep was enough to ascertain that they were almost all same-sex couples or groups, and the flamboyant attire or some of the make guests – my particular favourite being a young man with a bowler hat, a red bow tie, an orange jacket and white trousers – only helped to confirm that we were in fact celebrating in a gay bar.

I think the employees were all worried about our reaction to being the only straight couple celebrating in their establishment and as a result we got five different people coming over at various points to ask us if we were OK, if we were sure we were Ok and if we were definitely having a nice time. We were. The food was excellent, the wine even better, the service was the best we have experienced so far in almost 6 months in Beirut and it was a lovely laid back atmosphere, not rushed like most restaurant’s on Valentine’s Day who are keen to get as much custom as possible and as a result hurry their customers to reach unrealistic turnover times.

All in all a very good night, and on our way home we bumped into Maria and Samir who agreed to come for a drink with us in the alley, making the night even better.

In the meantime I found out something surprising about one of our friends who shall remain un-named, in accordance with his wishes. This guy is an American studying here and is very worried about keeping his real name and identity under the radar. I am not sure if he is overly paranoid or if we are not paranoid enough!

The invisible man is well-prepared and ultra-organised. He has two email addresses, one which contains his real name, for trusted friends and family members, and a whole other one which he uses for any other correspondence, including to deal with his professors and fellow students. He has a bag full of emergency supplies, mostly medicine, in case of some sudden calamity, so that he can instantly flee to the embassy and be sure that all the essentials are ready in one small bag at a moment’s notice. He has even mapped out to route to the embassy so that in the event of disaster he can make his way there – it’s about 50km from his house, he estimates, but he thinks he can run it in 4 hours.

Meanwhile Everitte and I? We live in a flat made out of old doors and frequently hand over our passports to General Security for weeks at a time to get our visas renewed, effectively abolishing our means of travel at short notice. We have no medication in the house other than a bottle of paracetamol and a box of plasters. Both of which are empty. I also work for a newspaper in my real name, which now comes up swiftly in a google search, and Everitte’s got his own business which likewise appears on the internet.

Do we need to be more careful? Does the invisible man need to relax? Or should we perhaps all work on finding a happy medium?

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11 thoughts on “Beirut Snapshots: Valentine’s in a gay bar and the invisible man

    • With all dues respect.. i deanrstund your sentiment, but we cant assume people will change themselves without a changing force, because people aren’t all initiators, people in masses are followers and if they find a force that can lead them to change they will follow.. just like they follow now.. this is the normal structure of societies a few lead and many follow.people have tried hard to tell people that change comes from within, but its not enough.Also, assuming that a revolution in Lebanon will lead to blood on the streets? Tunis, Egypt? who spilled that blood not the people.. the thugs.in lebanon we cant fear a few hundred thugs.. because in reality every household owns a gun, if not more. and therefore, the decision must be made to let go of our powers and differences and march in Peace for the end of this political charade we call a government.

    • Hi India. You might find my reply kind of “irrelevant” but apparently this is the only way to contact you. To tell you the truth i was googling “beirut+night+baby-sitter” and your blog appeared in the search. We’re an italian- lebanese couple. we have an 18 months baby boy. As you might have already guessed, we’re looking for night time baby-sitter. Could you be interested?
      This is my email silina.trombetta@gmail.com. Do not hesitate to write me so I can give you further details.
      Thank you loads!
      ps: you’re a very eloquent blogger!

  1. I know a lot of Lebanese people who are as ‘tense’ as your ‘over-careful’ friend is, & they are good friends or close relatives of mine as well!! However, I really don’t think that one needs to be this paranoid.. I mean sure, always have essential first aid kit around, & know the area you live in.. But seriously, I disagree to this level of paranoia those people have.. Relax & live & ENJOY life!!

  2. Well, the novelist in me is imaging all kinds of stories in regards to your invisible man, many of which would be classified as intrigue/thrillers! But those are too obvious, right? So maybe he’s an alien (of the outer space variety) trying somewhat unsuccessfully to blend in with humans…. :)

    A good restaurant is a good restaurant. But this is another great post where you shatter my obviously flawed conceptions of Lebanon. I would never have imagined such a restaurant could exist there!

    I’m looking forward to the next eye-opener!

  3. What a wonderful Valentine’s Day at the gay bar. :) So cute!
    I think people have to do what makes them feel safe. Everyone is different. It’s really an illusion of control, but sometimes we need our illusions. Your friend feels better by having a go bag. Doesn’t mean it would make you feel safe or be a necessity for you.

    I lived in NYC during and after 9-11, some of my rules made zero sense to my friends but they were the only way I could feel safe and able to go about my life. I didn’t have a go bag, but I refused to ride on bridges or take subways at rush hour for six months. As time passed without further attacks, I started to relax my rules. But I needed them to navigate my fears.

    • I thought it might be buaecse it is an Islamic country. Drink here, in Turkey used to be cheap but when the Islamic government got in, it more or less doubled, some as cigarettes. Beirut still sounds like a cool place to party though.

  4. Hmmnnn. That last revelation may not be so wise on a blog that searches on country name will bring up! But otherwise your life sounds very recognisable to me from my own youth, except the gay bars, of which there were none or I’m sure I’d have found myself in one. And of course your runaway success in finding a promising career, which I am just starting to develop at 60!
    Your proud Mum

  5. not sure to be honest. It’s an Islamic crtnuoy so i guess that contributes, other than that there is a lot of gulf money kicking around and 20% of the population are minted so they’ve got cash to burn :S

  6. Hello there, my name is joe! I am the manager of bardo, u know the one that prepared the valentine’s day there, n passed twice or trice by ur table:) as i follow always the reviews about bardo, i accidently found your review here, wich i gotta agree made my night, then day, n i guess should make my whole month:) am very happy that you had those beautiful feelings spending valentine with us, this is actually specifically what my aim was from all the decoration , ambiance n 50$ lets face it great deal. Our aim was to provide a night for lovers to afford it, yet to live one of those charming magical nights, thro our well reputed food, great wine n the decoration. U know, we are the only gay place in beirut that joins being a bar into being a restaurant,n therefore we felt we have an obligation towards our community that might not be able to spend a free valentine in other places without being given attitude or annoying looks. Bardo is simply a 4 stars gay resto bar, that is str8 friendly, especially those gourmets who appreciate uniqueness in food, n good service! Ur review here, is a responsibility for us to keep being up to the level, and is definitely a pride and a pleasure for us. Thank you

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