A roller coaster ride
Makdessi Street’s nightlife has dramatically risen and fallen in popularity over the past 10 years
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.
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