GiB#2 | Growing a GiB Village -- Monot or Mar Mikhael?

 The newcomer to the GiB map, Avant-Garde (off the ‘Ring’) is not quite as avant-gardiste as advertised. The bar/resto/club seems to be confused, and confusing, in many ways: how it’s set up, what it tries to be, its music and its lighting strategies. The few times I tried it, it was wannabe DJs spinning for a non-festive crowd, and always seemed to be either too empty, or too crowded. That said, GiBs certainly welcome this new addition to this underserved niche that is the GiB night scene, which is not only small, but also fragmented into sub-niches catering to different crowds. I must say however that I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food there and the new faces. Not to mention Wednesday Karaoke which can be hilarious if you get the chance like me to trip over a GiB doing Dalida.

But what Avant-Garde gets the most credit for is its location, at the lower end of good old Monot. For many of us 20- and 30-somethings, GiBs and others, our first barhopping (or even drinking) experiences are set across, under and over the side streets of Monot in the 90’s. It’s the first bar district worthy of the name that our generation ever had, and it still embodies these memories. Sad story for Monot after its boom in the late 90s, as it was hit by the residents’ lobbying campaigns against the disturbance caused by its extending night scene, later followed by the security issues in that area starting 2005. By which time the competition from Gemmayze had fully kicked in, leaving Monot to melt down back to its basic spots around Pacifico.

In this context, the flourishing Avant-Garde might well be signaling the start of a grass roots effort taking place in Monot, if other spots decided to pursue this effort to maybe one day make Monot the gay district of Beirut. In my opinion Monot has at least as much character and charm as Gemmayze, which has gone too mainstream and far too crowded, and it sure has the past experience and the potential it needs to rebuild an underground scene from the ground up and become GiB land. To those who get bothered at the thought of having a “Village” in Beirut, which would do nothing but ghettoize the GiBs, I hear you. But considering that it would be located in the heart of the city, right there where it all started, would certainly be a plus.

The other area that is a strong contender in my mind to become the future ‘GiB Village’ of Beirut is Mar Mikhael. Unlike Monot, Mar Mikhael is starting from scratch, with a new hangout opening every month or so, and while it seems to be very dynamic and GiB friendly lately, it faces the risk of turning into nothing but a pale continuation of Gemmayze street, which is itself extending further every year. But for now Mar Mikhael sure is on the right track, and it’s not me being too Gibby-minded to see it evolving in the GiB direction. Check out this piece from our infamous gay journalist and DJ ZM, who also writes under a couple pseudos in L’Orient Le Jour (way to write as a she!), where he describes Mar Mikhael as “le Marais beyrouthin” (le Marais is the gay village in center Paris).

Mon carré des Bermudes
Par Marguerite K. | 23/12/2009

Hotte d’or
Il y a un carré magique. Dans un quartier magique : Mar Mikhaïl. J'ai dit à Houssam, un jour qu'on s'y promenait : c'est le Marais beyrouthin. Le petit Berlin. Le laboratoire de cette capitale-tentacule où se cuisine tout ce qui sera hype et hyperbranché dans quelques mois. J'aime marcher dans Mar Mikhaïl. Je déambule. Et c'est une tour de Babel. On y parle toutes les langues, on y voit toutes les couleurs et on y renifle des odeurs qu'on croyait perdues. On touche même des espèces rares. Dans la boutique de la rue se croisent l'ouvrier en manque de conserves, des haricots souvent, et la jeune architecte suprabranchouille qui cherche une lampe. Il y a aussi la concierge d'un immeuble Yacoubian made in Beyrouth, le photographe en mal d'amour, un jeune couple qui ne comprend plus rien et ne veut plus rien comprendre, et puis une vieille folle et son canari. Ce quartier me plaît parce qu'il survivra à tout, même à une explosion nucléaire ; ce quartier s'autosuffit. Ce quartier est magique et il y a un carré magique. Un : Papercup. Cette librairie-salon de thé a été rêvée par une Rania Naufal mi Anaïs Nin mi Dita Von Teese. Andy Warhol aurait adoré s'y étendre. Cet espace dédié au beau et au bon est bourré de surprises. C'est une petite oasis européenne où s'agglutinent ceux qui veulent découvrir et ceux qui restent couverts, ceux qui veulent revoir et ceux qui veulent être vus. J'aime. Deux : Paula K. Dans cette boutique tenue d'une main très Veuve Clicquot par la over-Bree Van de Kamp Joumana Abillamaa Comaty, il y a les folies de Paula K. Elle invente puis réinvente le vêtement d'une femme et chaque femme devient Farah Diba, chaque femme devient toutes les femmes : le tissu est anamorphosé, c'est de la dentelle virile, même Houssam s'émeut et exige que je ressorte de la boutique rhabillée de la tête aux pieds. Trois : Tawlét souk el-tayeb. La cantine du délicieux Kamal Mouzawak. L'hymne à la vie, l'hymne à l'amour, l'amour d'une terre, l'amour d'un pays, donc l'amour de sa cuisine, ce garçon aime nourrir les gens, les rendre heureux, sa viande crue fond dans les bouches, c'est du patrimoine estampillé Unesco, les serveurs sont jolis. Quatre : l'antre de Caline Chidiac. Là où elle fantasme des playlists d'une simplicité et d'une efficacité infernales. Cette sorcière des platines est aux DJ ce qu'Agynes Deyn est aux mannequins : une comète, un ovni, une jalousie et les réceptions d'ici et de là-bas implosent en un feu d'artifice de décibels, la Chidiac ferait danser une guillotine, un lit de mort, une pétasse beyrouthine, même moi j'ai succombé. Il n'y a rien à dire : j'aime Mar Mikhaïl, et mon carré magique, Rania/Paula/Kamal/Caline, est terriblement miam miam.


Got Milk? | by Art Hake

I was going through some archives related to Gay activism throughout the world and found this angelic face throwing an inspiring speech at an LGBT rally. I had no idea who he was: Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter, Academy Award winner for his work on Milk (2008).

I wanna step into 2010 with positivity, so I decided to write about this, even though it’s kinda irrelevant to the blog purpose.

This blog is really about Beirut and the underground life of GiBs. For whether we throw a party attended by few hundred GiBs or open a shop with a hidden gay-friendly tag, don’t fool yourself: we still live underground. And no matter how blue the sky may seem, we don’t get to see it except from the corner of a window, behind obstructing curtains.

Some of our fellow local activists try to change things. We have associations, but it seems their own members don’t get along quite well. The “Abolish 534” group on Facebook is short to 3,000 members. The straight alliance for gay rights is a good cover-up for GiBs who can’t stand up for themselves –and I don’t blame them.

Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera ("Help yourself, and heaven will help you"). We can’t rely on others to help us out of our own shit, even though we never asked for it in the first place. Life’s unfair, hell yeah! But what can we do about it? Isn’t it time we do something about it?

California is debating same-sex marriage laws and we can’t even go out in the daylight. I just wish we had more inspiring personalities around us. Leaders we respect. People we can look up to. People who’s presence and support would help us fight for our rights in a more efficient way.

This is what Dustin said about Harvey Milk: “If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he would want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you re beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.”


Happy New Whatever | by Art Hake

Recovery took longer than expected; after all, it was New Year’s Eve and Lebanese parties are not really limited by dawn!

Best wishes to the GiB community, may we have a breakthrough year in terms of social rights, freedom, blablabla*

Seriously, what the f*ck happened this year? As usual, my plans were drawn as the evening went by. So I had my fair share of hopping from place to place, swinging like Tarzan on his liana, but without the scream, although it could’ve come in handy -anyway, it was all within walking distance, including (not so) private residences, pubs, streets and random WC’s. New Year parties are always something around here, but that one was kinda exhilarating. While the BCBG crowds overbooked the various restaurants and upper-scale clubs promoting constipated entertainment at crazy rates ($450 for an Elvis lookalike party or an average of $1,200 per person in the main hotels), we GiBs along with the “others” decided (quite randomly I tell you) to merge throughout the streets of Downtown and Gemmayzeh.

The Cotton Candy party attracted quite a GiB crowd (mostly undertwenties, drove me nuts) but the streets were overflown with real sweets. People were striving for attention: dress codes, attitudes, a perfect blend of sassiness and provocation. There were people dancing on the police trucks, the ones that are supposed to remove your car if you’re parked on the wrong lane. Many Arab fellows everywhere, Jordanians specifically, or did I strike Jordanian repeatedly? At some point, I found myself with a bunch of Italians but we had communication problems. Then a Brit came from behind (sorry for the bad choice of word) and started asking the weirdest questions. I snoozed him, many times. Yeah that one was completely off tracks!

But even that did not make me berserk. What did were the horses. Not the ones you see after popping many themed pills. Real horses, with cops on them! That was our government’s gift, unleashed in Downtown on the 31st : a mounted force (what an exciting label). We can now claim to be a JiD. Jungle in Development. I hope that won’t scare Tarzan off…

* Seriously, I mean it!

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