Keeping Beirut's nights alive

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Beirut was once known for its nightlife long before it become synonymous with chaos and war. The Lebanese capital has always indulged in sins that are banned in much of the Middle East like drinking, dancing and gambling. After 15 years of civil war Beirut's nightclubs had just begun to re-establish their stature. But the recent battle between Israel and Hezbollah and last week's political assassination changed all that. From Beirut, Ben Gilbert reports.


BEN GILBERT: News of the assassination of Pierre Gemayal, a major Lebanese Christian politician and cabinet minister, spread around the country on cafe TVs and car radios.

It happened on the eve of the country's Independence Day holiday, a night when many Beirutis planned to party all night in the capital's world-class bars and nightclubs.

Instead, the streets were deserted, and the expected parties were replaced by angry young men on street corners burning trash containers. The bars and clubs stayed closed for three days.

But by Friday night most had reopened, including this popular nightspot, called Pacifico. But it wasn't business as usual. Karma, a 26 year old psychology student who didn't want to give her last name, was out Saturday with two friends for the first time since the assassination. She said she's drained from the country's ups and downs.

KARMA:"We used to go out and party and dance and stuff and have a good time, but now it's different, a different situation."

Others, like John Ajaltoonee and friend Monica, who also wouldn't give her last name, planned on a late evening of dancing and drinking. They gave their bar-stool philosophy on the Lebanese lust for lifea€¦

JOHN AJALTOONEE: "We are the type of people who like living, so matter what the situation, we don't give a damn. Look at the crowd!"

MONICA: Live tonight, tomorrow morning you might be dead!"

AJALTOONEE:"Exactly."

Many Lebanese partied throughout the civil war that tore the country apart for 15 years. It was an escape valve from the violence and people here talk nostalgically about DJs turning up the music to drown out the sound of bombs.

Most of those clubs were located outside the city, but they've moved back, and now the biggest partying strip is called Monot Street. This is not the Lebanon you know about from the news.

At a $1 million club called "Element," partygoers down $10 drinks and dance on tables until morning. It closed at the beginning of this summer's war, but reopened just after the ceasefire.

Element DJ and co-owner Marwan Kayrouz says 80 percent of the business had returned before the assassination, but he and his partners are still facing tough times.

MARWAN KAYROUZ:"We were supposed to open a new restaurant, that's a rooftop, called Fly, one week after war happened, and then the war happened and we opened after war, this was more or less a disaster."

Kayrooz says he and other partners invested $500,000 in the new club. As of last Monday, when this interview was conducted, he wasn't too worried about the future. That was before the assassination and another obstacle in the road to recovery for the Lebanese nightlife.

In Beirut, I'm Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.

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