Lebanon's political paralysis and bomb blasts may have deterred summer tourists but it's a case of "crisis, what crisis?" for a small elite: the hardcore party crowds of Beirut and its modern-day protege Dubai.
After dancing the night away at the rooftop Sky Bar, which packs in 2,500 a night, weekend visitors from Dubai sleep it off at one of Beirut's luxury hotels before wearily heading for a pool and bar-restaurant overlooking the Med in time for sundowners.
AdvertisementThe hop across from the Phoenicia hotel-- metres (yards) from the site of the blast that killed former billionaire premier Rafiq Hariri -- is no problem for girls in mini-skirts, even in what used to be the west Beirut held by Muslim militias during the civil war.
A hefty bill was clocked up in less than two hours by a mixed party of six earlier this month, including two British blondes and the son of an Arab ambassador.
Several bottles of Moet and Chandon pink champagne -- at 250 dollars (180 euros) a pop -- were consumed, along with super-sized glasses of "Sex on the Beach," a lethal cocktail made of vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry and orange juices.
"If you think we are party-animals, you ain't seen nothing!" said the Palestinian leader of the jet-set party, looking somewhat worse for wear. Next on the "partee circuit" was Cannes, Dubai and then back to Beirut for another round.
One of the young men of Asian and Arab origin -- whose normal Beirut base is a Phoenicia junior suite at 500 dollars a night -- had splashed out to buy a hairdressing salon in the booming Western expat haven of Dubai for his English girlfriend.
"Expats (Lebanese and foreign) are my main targets. They're the coolest," said Sky Bar's Chafic al-Khazen, whose concept combining cool architecture, fabulous sea views and hot sounds has made his venue the clubbers' favourite.
A security officer at the heavily-guarded Phoenicia said the hotel gets busy at weekends, especially with visitors from the Gulf.
"Here I go out all the time. In Dubai, it's disgusting with all the hookers," said 22-year-old Monia, a Lebanese marketing executive and regular of the Sky Bar back home in Beirut.
Dubai, branded as decadent in the British press and workplace of prostitutes from the four corners of the globe, may be ultra-liberal by Gulf standards but has its limitations compared to Beirut, at least in public view.
Just about anything seems to go in Lebanon, if you have the status, including stag nights complete with Lebanese and Syrian strippers in the pool at private beach clubs.
Daily services -- with extra flights between the two clubbing hubs to cover the extended Muslim-Christian weekend of Thursday to Sunday -- link Beirut and the booming Gulf emirate of Dubai.
Lebanese expats, executives but also a growing number of service sector staff, shuttle back and forth from Dubai, where the visionary exuberance of ruler Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed al-Maktoum -- known as "Sheikh Mo" -- has placed the emirate on the world map.
Obscene spending is fast becoming the norm in a city state combining inspired vision, glitz and kitsch.
In their haste to board the Bentley, purring to return to the Burj al-Arab hotel, a sail-shaped landmark for the super-rich to indulge and others to admire from afar, punters have been known to leave behind their Rolex as a tip for Dubai nightclub waiters.
It has become a playground of sheikhs, nouveau-rich Russians, and international playboys -- much like the Lebanese capital in its heyday before the 1975-1990 civil war that was marked by a sharp rich-poor divide.
Back in Beirut, at an 'after-club club' called BO18, where the action doesn't start until 3:00 am, ravers, some of them high on ecstasy, dance to garage and trance until it's time to watch the sunrise just as the Muslim faithful are being called to prayer.
A small bottle of water -- a must for users of the designer drug -- sets you back 10 dollars.
The underground club, with retractable roof and fitted with tables and benches shaped like coffins, lies in the Qarantina district, scene of an infamous massacre of Palestinian refugees during the civil war.
"I couldn't believe it sometimes. We were partying on top of a camp. And you think to yourself: 'What am I am doing here when you hear the adan (call to prayers)'?" admits a Lebanese-Palestinian heiress, 23, who says she has outgrown the trend.
Another in-place, Le Crystal nightclub, which has branches in London and, of course, Dubai, celebrated its July birthday with a weekend bash on a disco boat, with hot sounds blaring across the bay, bikini-clad girls shedding any inhibition.
A Magnum of champagne cost 3,000 dollars.
Across Lebanon, despite the cancellation of its international summer festivals -- notably the annual culture extravaganza at Beiteddin, near the capital -- and a Shakira concert, sexy Arab singing sensation Haifa Wehbe starred in a first major performance in the southern town of Tyre since last year's Hezbollah-Israel war.
And British virtuoso jazz violinist Nigel Kennedy with his "mockney" comments and Aston Villa FC shirt entertained a high-society crowd at the fashionable Music Hall club in downtown Beirut, not far from Hezbollah's round-the-year protest tents.
"We are having our alternative Beiteddin Festival," said festival organiser Noura Jumblatt, wife of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a fierce critic of Hezbollah.
A bevvy of girls at a beauty pageant to the north of the capital, meanwhile, posed for photographers in camouflage combat gear to salute Lebanese soldiers who have lost more than 110 of their colleagues in battle with Islamist militants.
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