A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

what’s in a name? Beirut bars in bad taste

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 4, 2007

At around 11:30 on Saturday evening, Charles (who suggested this post) stopped by the Gemmayze restaurant where I was dining with mutual friends. He was coming from supper at a restaurant further up the street, and was passing by on his way to a pre-beirut drink at Métis.

I was too busy nerding out over my tablemate (a theologian whose works on Muslim readings of Christian texts I have long admired) to do more than smile wanly at this mention of Gemmayzé’s latest hotspot. When poor Charles called this afternoon to say hello, he got the full blast of diamond vexation at a bar whose name drives me bananas.

Métis is lauded by MixFM, the Middle East’s largest broadcasting station (according to H, who took me out for a drive this afternoon):

From the creators of the infamous Crystal extends a new concept of pre-clubbing dining and drinking. Metis is situated in the same bustling Monot area of Ashrafieh with some of Beirut’s finest clientele starting their nights here. Music played is just right for the time of night and the type of atmosphere you’d expect from a quality bar. Big open space enables everyone to see one another, perfect for the Beiruty social scene.

Only in Lebanon could the idea of drinking and dining before going out to a dance club be described (with a straight face) as a “new concept”. What did everyone do before Métis opened?

Condé Nast Traveler’s UK site praises the bar as well, if in more restrained language (the review was written when Monot was still fashionable):

Situated in the fashionable area of Monot, the chicest Beirutis start their nights here, and the club is always full. Try the blossom martinis, they are the best in town.

Chic and fashionable as they might be, those of “Beirut’s finest clientele” who begin their evenings at Métis make me a bit ill.

Métis” is not a nice term. What if the bar’s name were written in English?




Consider its adjectival form, métissage.

In English, the word is miscegenation, a highly charged term employed most frequently in United States’ history to prohibit sexual relations and marriage between whites and blacks.

In French the two words have a similarly unpleasant history. In 1993, the film Métissage was re-released as Cafe au Lait after the original title proved too controversial.

I understand that since then the term has been “re-appropriated”, in much the same way that in the US various negative terms for gays and minorities have been positively reclaimed by members of those communities.

However, I doubt that the patrons of Métis the Achrafiyeh bar have this intention foremost in their minds as they sip their blossom martinis.

Nor do I believe that the owners established this bar to further a social consciousness-raising program.

Métis is the second bar bearing a name of (in my view) questionable taste to have opened in recent months. The first, Gemmayze’s Ghetto, might be charitably described as a product of bad timing, coming so soon after the July War.

Again, in the US a bar with this name would be soon shuttered. “Ghetto” raises both the specter of Europe’s history of anti-Jewish discrimination and that of the United States’ “ghetto-ization” of black and other minority neighborhoods.

Of course, all my fussing may indicate nothing more than how deeply American my sense of language is. Still, with all the witty (and half-witty) bar names … why choose these?

Update, March 8, 2007

Charles Malik sms’ed me from the UK to inform me that there is a London club called Ghetto. Intrigued, and a bit shamefaced, I googled it this morning: Ghetto London. The club has won rave reviews from various London entertainment publications and websites, for its electro and other music nights as well as its laid-back, attitude-free, straight-friendly atmosphere.

Yes, that’s right – Ghetto London is a gay club. Although I still find the name distasteful, I think in this case that it is in line with the reappropriation of the word “gay” I mentioned above.

I am including the club’s “info” sheet below. It does look like a nice, friendly space – I’ve never before seen a club that manages to be both hip and personable, but the promise of counselor bouncers sounds like a good move.


One Response to “what’s in a name? Beirut bars in bad taste”

  1. I wonder if your MixFM friend knows the owners of Crytal. They might provide a decent explanation for why they chose the name. Then again, it was probably a crass, eye-catching name they could use for a few years before they decide to rename the place (which happens regularly). Red became Shakespeare and then became Blush. I’ve forgotten a few of the other names that place has had in the past.

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