BEIRUT: Residents of the Mar Mikhael neighborhood in Beirut didn’t realize how much sleep they’d be losing once the bar scene moved to their quarter. Thumping music and drunken rants are now as common as the evening breeze drifting in through their windows; and weekends have become a nightmare, some residents said. Bar owners say they are trying to minimize the discontent, but the ever-expanding party scene begs the question: Will this be another Gemmayzeh fiasco?
In 2008, Beirut’s erratic party scene had taken over Gemmayzeh – a neighborhood down the street from Mar Mikhael. Noise, traffic and general debauchery outraged long-term residents, who held town meetings, lashed out at the Tourism Ministry, demanded curfews and put up public signs reminding revelers that it was a residential area. The nomadic nature of Beirut’s nightlife has since relieved residents of their unwelcome merrymakers to some degree, by handing over the problem to Gemmayzeh’s eastern neighbors in Mar Mikhael.
Many pubs and bars said they had been trying to keep the music volume to a minimum, but it’s not as easy to control the clients who now spend most of the night drinking right outside of the bar and on the street as a result of the smoking law and because of the small size of the bars.
Bars have tended to stay open till around 2 a.m. But that might be changing, since Bodo popped up little over a week ago. Bodo first gained popularity in Hamra for its open-front design, deliciously flavored popcorn and being open until the wee hours, i.e. 6 a.m.
Bodo’s new Mar Mikhael branch stays open until 5 a.m. So far, it has received no complaints from residents, but it may only be a matter of time.
On the other hand, some pubs that have been in the area longer have learned the rules to keeping the residents satisfied, their staff members said.
“We usually lower the music volume after midnight,” said a Radio Beirut bartender, who declined to give his name.
The well-known pub, which attracts a large number of bar hoppers, also closes its back windows after midnight to maintain a moderate noise level, but that still doesn’t stop its clients from flocking to the main street right outside its front door.
“The last complaint we received was five or six months ago,” he added. “But otherwise, the residents are pretty OK with us.”
Maroun Chehade, who owns Maroun’s Gifts right on the main street, strongly disagreed.
He said residents were constantly complaining. He regularly finds up to eight beer bottles outside of his shop in the mornings, or even on top of parked cars.
“I pick them up every day,” he said. “I’m not saying pub-goers aren’t polite, but there are many who aren’t.”
With many resorting to drinking outside so they can smoke, residents and shop owners find themselves forced to pick up after them in the morning. Shards of broken glass, vomit and dozens of cigarette butts are now a regular morning greeting to some.
Chehade, who sells and repairs watches and accessories, opened his shop almost four years ago and has been witness to the growing night life in the area.
“Everybody who lives here is annoyed, nobody’s happy,” he added. “Sure, people have a right to go out and have fun, but it’s aggravating.”
Drunken chants and cheers late into the night or early in the morning are another unpleasant result, residents say. Many wake from a deep slumber to a loud ruckus, which is far from music to their ears.
Another challenge is the lack of parking space. The streets of Mar Mikhael are already narrow and parking is constricted, and valets are now preventing residents from parking their cars by their buildings or are putting up posts to block the available spaces, reserving them for pub-goers. Parking lots are hard to find, expensive, and not always close to home, residents say.
Congestion has also been a problem, especially during weekend nights. Loud honking and pulsing music emanating from cars has become unbearable for those whose balconies face the main street, and the ones driving home between happy hour and well after midnight are having trouble making it there at all.
“I’m getting annoyed because of the traffic, especially because of the double parking,” said 28-year-old teacher Anita Moutchoyan, who has lived in Mar Mikhael her entire life. “It is taking us 15 minutes to cross the [crowded] area when it used to take us two.”
Some of her friends living in the area have also been experiencing such discomforts, she says, including the inability to get a good night’s sleep for those whose bedrooms face the street.
Because the pubs are right on the main road, a lot of youngsters also buy beer or other kinds of alcohol from nearby shops and mini-marts rather than from the bars, and sit on the pavement outside anyway.
One store owner, whose declined to give her name, has been living in a building right by the colorful Mar Mikhael steps for over 30 years. She and her husband own a small mini-mart on the building’s ground floor.
She seemed more than happy to discuss the issue.
“It’s not the pubs we have a problem with, we’re not anti-pub,” she emphasized. “It’s the young men and women who drink until late at night.”
She said she and others in the neighborhood had been having trouble sleeping, especially the elderly residents, who wake in the middle of the night to loud music, including that emanating from cars, and piercing drunken chants.
It’s the impoliteness of the youngsters that is the most disturbing, she said, adding that the way they drink, and how much, is indicative of their lack of morals.
“This used to be a quiet neighborhood,” she continued. “Sure, there were rarely people out on the streets, but it was actually better that way.”
She also said that while she and her many of her neighbors have complained a few times, most of the bar owners are well-backed financially and can pay off any and all fines.
“Whom will I complain to?” she said, aggravated.
“Who will listen to us?”