A roller coaster ride

Makdessi Street’s nightlife has dramatically risen and fallen in pop­u­lar­ity over the past 10 years

Executive Magazine - - Business - By Na­bila Rah­hal

When Le­banon’s Civil War ended in 1990, Hamra was at a stand­still in terms of nightlife, with al­most no pubs or restau­rants in op­er­a­tion on Makdessi, the street just north of the main road. In 2005, the roller coaster ride be­gan its slow as­cent with the open­ing of De Prague, a cross be­tween a pub and a cof­fee shop, lo­cated next to HSBC bank. It was fol­lowed two years later by Le Rouge, a French restau­rant.

But it was with the open­ing of Danny’s in 2009, a pub on what is now called the Al­ley­way, the nar­row street con­nect­ing Makdessi to Hamra’s main road, and the neigh­bor­ing out­lets shortly af­ter, that the street re­ally took off. In less than two years, 32 pubs or restau­rants had opened on Makdessi Street and its im­me­di­ate vicini­ties, ex­clud­ing Hamra’s main road, and it was con­sid­ered a top des­ti­na­tion for nightlife.

“What made Hamra so suc­cess­ful was that ev­ery­one knew it. It wasn’t a lo­cal des­ti­na­tion but a na­tional one. I had peo­ple com­ing to my venue Clé — on Wardieh Street, per­pen­dic­u­lar to Makdessi — from Jounieh or Metn, say­ing that this was the first time they come to Hamra but they had heard so much from their par­ents about the nightlife here in the 1960s that they wanted to see it for them­selves,” says Us­sama Makarem, CEO of Makarem Group, which op­er­ates BistroBar on Makdessi Street among other hos­pi­tal­ity venues in Beirut.

THE DE­SCENT

Although Makdessi Street be­gan to lose some of its lus­ter in mid 2013, when the street be­came too crowded and the out­lets on it too loud, the venue op­er­a­tors Ex­ec­u­tive spoke to say Makdessi Street’s plum­met be­gan in earnest in early 2014, mostly be­cause of the coun­try’s se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion.

Makarem re­calls that 2014 started off on the wrong foot, as sui­cide bomb­ings rocked the coun­try, in­clud­ing at a Raouche ho­tel, and se­cu­rity forces raided the Napoleon Ho­tel just off Makdessi Street. “Po­lit­i­cal is­sues re­ally af­fected the street and many peo­ple got scared to come here and cut it off com­pletely,” he says.

Charles Frem, owner of Garcia’s in Hamra and Cen­tral Sta­tion in Mar Mikhael, also be­lieves that the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, and specif­i­cally — ac­cord­ing to him — the ru­mors which cir­cu­lated re­gard­ing a pos­si­ble ex­plo­sion in Hamra, scared peo­ple from com­ing to Makdessi.

Those in­ter­viewed for the ar­ti­cle all blamed the high con­cen­tra­tion of beg­gars on Makdessi Street as an­other rea­son peo­ple started go­ing else­where. “The other fac­tor that also played a role in the slight decline of the area is, un­for­tu­nately and not to be prej­u­diced, the beg­gars that flooded to Hamra from the con­flict in Syria,” says Saadi Ha­mady, owner of Poly Project Inc. which op­er­ates Bricks on Makdessi Street. “It is true there are beg­gars in many other ar­eas in Le­banon but there was a high con­cen­tra­tion in Hamra and Makdessi which an­noyed the lo­cal clients who then pre­ferred to go else­where,” said Ha­mady, adding that, on a pos­i­tive note, the Syr­ian res­i­dents re­sid­ing in the area helped sup­port many of the busi­nesses on the street, in­clud­ing his own.

In par­al­lel to peo­ple grow­ing un­com­fort­able with the cli­mate sur­round­ing nightlife on Makdessi Street, other ar­eas such as Mar Mikhael or Badaro — which were sim­i­lar to Makdessi ini­tially, but newer and there­fore more ex­cit­ing for some — brought com­pe­ti­tion, ac­cord­ing to Frem. Since the num­ber of peo­ple living in Le­banon who can af­ford to go out is not that high, Makdessi Street un­der­stand­ably felt the strain. “We are all com­pet­ing

In the past, se­cu­rity con­cerns have ham­pered the growth of nightlife ar­eas

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