How to party in Beirut like it’s your last night on earth

When you’re American and you tell people you’re heading to Beirut on vacation, nobody will believe you. “Sure,” they will crack, “Beirut makes a lot more financial sense than North Korea.” Perhaps after a quick Google Maps search to remind themselves where Lebanon actually is, they will inform you that it shares a border with Syria, and that Beirut is but 70 short miles from Damascus. Here’s the thing: People in the rest of the world have been partying here for ages. In the Middle East, Lebanon is considered a beacon of peace and progressivism. It’s where rich kids from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Gulf buy their luxury goods and blow off steam. I spent three nights in Beirut this spring, and the only time I ever felt unsafe was when my Uber driver couldn’t figure out his GPS. Yes, the city was once wracked by civil war, but that war ended 27 years ago. Beirut today is a gorgeous place, a picture of cosmopolitanism, with a promenade along the Mediterranean Sea and maybe the best nightlife I’ve ever witnessed. The weather’s balmy. The food’s incredible. You should go. Here’s how to do it.

The subterranean nightclub B018 is to Beirut what Berghain is to Berlin, a venue so famous that it’s almost a cliché. Whatever. The place rules. It’s a former bomb bunker located in the middle of a circular parking lot, and it’s emblematic of Beirut’s civic disposition—which, as one prominent Middle East scholar puts it, is to make something useful out of its war-torn history and keep on dancing till the world ends. Anyway, there’s no building: just a staircase down, down, down.

When you finally reach the dance floor, you may have to pay a cover charge. Mine was $50 and included three drinks, which by the standards of New York City constituted a bargain. From there it was pretty much like being in an American club, in that the music was Drake and Migos and the other usual suspects that get played everywhere around the world that people gather to have a good time. But it was different from an American dance club in that the venue was not populated exclusively with douche nozzles.

GQ

Berghain of Beirut | How an Underground Bunker in Lebanon Became One of the World’s Best Clubs

The story behind B018, the legendary nightlife spot that’s just reopened its doors (and roof)

“In the mid-1980s, nothing could be heard in Beirut but the sounds of missiles and bullets,” Ali tells me, “But while everyone was completely overwhelmed with the raging war, the young Naji Gebran was busy curating his own music in a small chalet with the number: ‘’B018’’ at the door. This unit turned later into a music refuge for his music lovers’ friends in the midst of their misery.”

“The area was so deserted that even my taxi driver was confused”

So begins the story of B018, one of the most influential clubs, not just in the Middle East, but in the world. Ali Saleh, the current managing partner of the club, is a calm, soft spoken guy, but his face lights up when discussing Beirut, B018 and their intertwined histories.

“At a time when nightclubs were not very common, B018 captured the hearts and minds of generations” Ali continued, “It was a musical revelation; an institution that gave credibility and put Beirut on the international nightlife map. It was also the first club to introduce electronic music, not just to Lebanon, but the region as well.”

B018 started out in the 80s as a series of private parties, but quickly became so popular that it was forced to move into a warehouse location in the industrial area of Sin El Fil in the early 90s. It wasn’t until 1998 that it took on its current position and form, when the pioneering Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury designed and built the underground club in an area called The Quarantaine, or “Karantina”, a desolate neighbourhood that was previously the site of a camp for Kurdish, Palestinian and Armenian refugees.

That was until 1976, when a group of local militia-men massacred hundreds of refugees and burnt the camp to the ground in one of the early actions of the Lebanese Civil War. In the aftermath of the slaughter, the area was left abandoned. So it’s a strange, if not controversial, place to build a nightclub.

“In 1993 [shortly after the war ended] there was a lot of great hopes but a lot of frustrations. Around that time a lot of the construction work was aiming to wipe out the recent past, and put everything that was a bit problematic under the carpet,” Bernard tells me, “It was very frustrating for people of my generation who were waiting for this great reconstruction project, not only of buildings, but of a nation.”

“Any morally responsible architect would have turned his back on such an absurd proposition, because of the impossibility of building a nightclub, on a moral level, on such a site,” Bernard continues, “But many of my generation were upset about the lack of history, and B018 was a reaction to that. It was the first architectural project that put its finger literally on the wound in such a manner.”

Twenty years after its opening in the Quarantaine, Ali, Bernard, and the rest of the management team (Romy Habre, Nemer Saliba and Michel Ghanem) decided to completely refurbish the club, stripping away its interior completely. But why now?

“B018’s refurbishment has been long overdue,” explained Ali, “We did our best to keep the same spirit and its iconic retractable roof, but we’ve invested heavily in design, sound, service and overall experience. Given today’s competition we needed to step up and remind the people how B018’s avant garde design played a major role in its positioning.”

The Quarantaine area is just off the main highway that runs through the whole of Beirut, and Lebanon itself. And as you travel on that road there are a constant stream of buildings towering alongside you. But approaching B018, you notice that the area is completely empty, and the constant stream of buildings stop. It was so deserted that even my taxi driver was confused, and began driving round various empty backstreets, before I spotted a person with B018 printed on their jacket standing in the middle of what looked like an empty parking lot and got out.

“If you look at Beirut on Google maps you will see that for a very small stretch there are no buildings at all and this is The Quarantaine,” Bernard tells me, “The over development stops here, so what I decided to do is preserve that void. From that stretch of highway B018 is invisible, and its invisibility reaffirms that void in a very dramatic way.”

“The beast is asleep during the day, and the highest point of the roof only lifts 70cm off the ground so when you drive by you don’t see it,” he adds, “And then at night it wakes up. And when it wakes up its metal panels open up, and because it’s in such a desolate area it can make a lot of noise. So its invisibility was my first response in relation to the city from an urbanistic point of view.”

It certainly felt ominous as we walked down the steps and the club’s all-black walls swallowed us up. But sometimes a little nervous anticipation is exactly what’s needed: Like all the best clubs, the unusual facade is part of what makes it an ‘experience’, rather than just a night out.

In the club itself, the revamp had seen its apparently old, tatty furniture completely replaced by black stone. Literally everything was black stone – from the seating to the bar to the DJ booth, to the air conditioning vents. Then there were the four skeletal installations hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the dance floor (also made of black stone, naturally). Looking for all the world like minimalistic animal corpses in a slaughterhouse, they helped add to the overall impression of being inside a some kind of techno tomb – the kind of place you’d expect the cool vampires from Blade would go to party.

“When I first built the site, we filled it with precious furniture, like mahogany and so on – and although it lasted twenty years of abuse, this place was supposed to be temporary, it only had a five year lease,” Bernard tells me, “So when I redesigned it, I made sure I made everything was in stone. So what was initially a set of very precious instruments set underground, has now been petrified forever.”

For all the talk of death, tombs and darkness though, B018 was one of the most lively clubs I’d ever been to. Although not a huge space, it was perfectly formed, and never felt overcrowded at any point. The music never ceased to be anything other than fist-pumping techno and beefy tech-house, with an incredible set from Lele Sacchi, an Italian DJ with international pedigree, that had the crowd hooked from start to finish.

What’s the place like to play, I asked him when he’d finished? “The venue has something special about it,” he said. “You notice it as soon as you walk in. It’s the chemistry between your mixing, the music, the crowd and the environment which makes a set work [and] B018 had all that. The crowd was ready to go for it, the sound was great and the warm up DJ created the perfect atmosphere.”

As the night wore on, with light-beams reflecting off the mirrors down the sides of the club to create beautiful geometric patterns, I noticed that they dance floor they were projected on was never empty. People were always dancing feverishly, with a real passion for it that’s hard to put your finger on. It’s something I haven’t really seen or felt in the UK since my teenage years in illegal raves – a sense that the people were genuinely reveling in the moment, uninhibited.

“It looks like some kind of techno tomb – the kind of place you’d expect the cool vampires from Blade would go to party”

“It’s quite clear to me that people in Beirut have a lot of love for life and for partying,” Lele continued. “Of course many cities have that, but maybe the difference is that Lebanon is so multicultural and has the heritage which comes from a long history of being one of the nightlife spots in the world. Plus the underground electronic music scene is relatively new if you compare it to EU and US, and that also leaves space for a lot of excitement from both the crowd and the players of the scene.”

As dawn began to creep into my muscles, the roof of the club opened up, wafting thick cigarette smoke and pumping bass kicks into the hollowed air of the Quarantine, and letting the gently lifting grey of the Beirut morning sky drizzle down onto the punters’ faces. It was an otherworldly moment even for a creaky, jaded old raver like myself – unique and special, invoking that feeling of wonder, as great clubs are prone to do.

“B018 was never intended to be a memorial,” Bernard tells me. “But it was a nightclub with some kind of political awareness, and some kind of honesty. No one thinks a nightclub will have any political meaning, at least architecturally. We spend our efforts on building libraries and public buildings, because this is where history is written, history isn’t written in nightclubs.

“But then I realized that [places] where history isn’t meant to be written is where things become very interesting. I realized nightclubs could be political projects, and buildings that have a great cultural charge are [arguably] more important than museums – if anything, museums are the cemeteries of culture.”

And if museums are the cemeteries of culture, then surely nightclubs, and B018 in particular, is where culture is born: Forged behind the decks and on the dance floor, giving people new, unforgettable experiences that go on to inspire them in their daily lives.

Amuse Vice

This Underground War Bunker is one of the best Nightclubs in the world

B018 is currently a nightclub posing as a bomb shelter stationed in the center of a round parking lot in Lebanon and is considered to be one of the best techno clubs in the world.

The backstory behind its rise consists of the makings of a Hollywood Movie, only it is a story that happened in real life. The authenticity of the situation could never be imagined by anybody that did not live it, so a movie version of it would not do it justice.

The harsh truth behind what happened during the rise of B018 is unfathomable. In the mid-1980s, Beirut was a complete warzone. The people that lived there could not feel safe due to the constant artillery barrages from various forces. Missiles and rockets dominated the area, and it was a time of great suffering and loss for the citizens.

While war raged on in the background, music enthusiast Naji Gebran spent his time creating and producing music in a small chalet with the combination B018 listed on the front door. It started as his own music space and turned into a place of hope. Music lovers living life on a live battlefield would add some magic to B018, and would make a music refuge out of the small chalet.

The popularity skyrocketed, and the group would move beyond the initial starting place and take steps to grow. They outgrew several different locations until 1998 when they moved into the subterranean bomb shelter that is the current legendary location.

The location got a lot of scrutiny for its party setting on grounds that experienced some brutal circumstances. B018 sets in a former quarantine area or “karantina”.

Twenty years earlier the desolate neighborhood was the site of a refugee camp that experienced genocide. Countless refugees were slaughtered and the camp was completely destroyed during the Lebanese Civil War. In the wake of the aftermath, the area was abandoned, until the club set up shop in the bunker.

Initial backlash was squashed by the realization that it was an actual representation of the history. A reminder that they danced through a warzone, as a sign of hope. Music was the driving force to get them through the face of terror, so once it was realized that is was not meant to be a slap in the face to other locals, it was widely accepted and eventually would turn into a worldwide travel destination for dancing machines from around the globe.

The bunker has an iconic retractable roof and was designed with love by the curators and people behind B108. It sits in the middle of nowhere and is nearly impossible to find in the day time for first-time travelers. During the night the underground dance area blatantly lights up and draws an inviting aura to attract the rulers of the night.

With the rise of popularity and dance music clubs around Beirut, the pioneers that brought electronic dance music to the area in a time that nightclubs were basically nonexistent, B108 wanted to reestablish their selves as a dominating force in the dance party world.

In September of 2018, the group and the management team led by Ali Saleh decided that it was due time for a makeover of the iconic dancing mecca in Beirut, and they shut the doors during the renovations. They aimed to stay true to the roots, and not hide from the history of B108 while reinventing the stomping grounds.

They utilized the services of the world-renowned Lebanese, and original bunker architect Bernard Khoury and they stripped the entire interior. The upgrades to the relic involved improvements to sound, lights, atmosphere, design, and to add overall service experience enhancements. They kept the operational retractable roof to stay true to form.

B018 is officially back open for business as of December 2018. Overall reports from experiences at the bomb shelter are that of sheer magic. The already next level rave bunker went a step above with their upgrades. It is a hotspot for celebrities, famous artists, and wealthy travelers, and should be considered a bucket list item for all party people.

Rave Jungle