Drinking Near the Site of a Lebanese Massacre
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Horrific things once happened here. But now people come in peace to party.
By Allison Yates
In Beirut, there’s a saying: “All Beirut parties lead to the bunker.” But despite the cosmopolitan city having faced decades of unrest, locals don’t mean they’re seeking refuge.
They’re continuing the party at B018, a club known as the birthplace of Beirut’s electronic music scene. Here carefree Beirutis party through the night in an underground club — which is not actually a bunker, but resembles one — with muted decor lit only by strobe lights. Amid patrons with their hands in the air or laughing over a friend’s shoulder, you’d think the memory of this area’s massacre was dead. But instead, B018 is keeping it alive, while also bringing people together to dance.
“Everyone unites there without an effort,” says blogger Gino Raidy, a regular. He says the togetherness of B018, which is known for being casual, laid-back and LGBTQ-friendly, is a contrast to the still separate city, which saw minimal reintegration of Christians, Palestinians, Sunnis and Shiite Muslims — who fought in factions against each other — after the civil war ended in 1990. But in B018, “you make friends you never [normally] would,” Raidy argues. The extensive bar menu probably helps too.
The entrance leads you deep underground to the rectangular club below — some call it coffin-shaped.
For clubbers, it’s a must-visit — whether to catch resident DJ Ziad Ghosn or a live act, or simply to make it the last stop of the night. You’ll need to drive to Beirut’s industrial Karantina, or Quarantaine, district, where B018 has hosted all-night parties since 1998. The building itself, designed by architect Bernard Khoury, looks like it belongs on the set of a futuristic movie. The exterior of a circular concrete slab, slightly elevated from ground level, is wrapped in metal sheets. The entrance leads you deep underground to the rectangular club below — some call it coffin-shaped.
Which would be appropriate considering that this area of the city, close to the Port of Beirut, was home to one of the horrific massacres in the early days of the civil war. On Jan. 18, 1976, right-wing militias attacked the area, which at the time was home to many Palestinian refugees. Khoury even recalls seeing the camp erupt into flames as he rode in the back seat of his mother’s car.
So why build a club here? For Khoury, it was both a pragmatic choice and a political decision. In the 1990s, it was an affordable location, and the tragedies of Karantina were largely forgotten, ignored or overshadowed by bigger atrocities such as the Tal Za’tar.
Today you won’t find conflict in the area, and the common assumption that the people of Beirut party because of an uncertain future isn’t completely accurate. “I think they just like to party — there isn’t an extra layer to it,” says Raidy. You also won’t find any extra layers of clothes here. Too hot for that as patrons dance to mashed-up beats amid piled-up drinks on the floor and, occasionally, David Lynch-inspired red velvet curtains.
The best part? No, it’s not jumping the couches or twirling under the disco ball in an underground club. It’s the retractable roof. At night, you’ll glimpse the stars (and the cars parked above ground that you pray have used their emergency brakes), but the real treat comes at 7 a.m., when the club closes and your eyes squint into a brand-new morning.
Known around the Middle East and the world, B018 pushes boundaries and bedtimes with its dedicated patrons and curious tourists. It is, after all, “the temple that gave everyone the blessing — the electronic music blessing,” says Nadine Assaf, who books artists for the club.
Go There: B018
- Location: Karantina district in Beirut, near the Forum de Beyrouth. There is no exact address!
- Hours: Thursdays 9 p.m.–7 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays 12 p.m.–7 a.m.
- Entrance fee: $20
- Pro tip: Take a nap before you go out, and party elsewhere before heading here. This isn’t a “have a casual drink kind of place” — it gets going around 2 a.m. Be sure to party hard and stay until sunrise. Though bottle service is costly, try to make a reservation and get a table — otherwise you might be left out in the parking lot. Electronic music not your thing? Come on Thursdays for ’80s night, one of Beirut’s most beloved throwback parties.
- Allison Yates, OZY Author Contact Allison Yates