We all need a feel good story at this time of year, something that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, something that reminds us that good things can come out of adversity. That’s true at the best of times but after the year that we’ve all endured, it’s fair to say that it’s more important than ever. Which is why we’re so happy to break this particular piece of news. It has all of the elements of the best of reality shows: love, loss, coming together, rallying round and resoluteness.
Remember back in the beginning of August when we wrote about the explosion in Beirut and how it ravaged Electric Bing Sutt, the beloved bar of Jad Ballout and his wife Lynn Lin? The photographs of the site (below) were devastating. As soon as news broke of their plight, Dinos Constantinides and Nico de Soto, two bar owner friends from Cyprus and France set up a GoFundMe page to help out. And before you could say, ‘donate’, the funds came flooding in.
In total, the page raised over €30,000, gifted by bartenders, bar owners, brands and customers from all over the world. And important as the money has been, it’s the messages of support and love that have given Jad, Lynn and business partner Andre Gerges the impetus to pull through.
We caught up with Jad a month after the blast to see how the team were getting on. Coincidentally, on the day of our call, a huge fire had broken out at the port, bringing with it reminders of past events. Then a week ago Jad got in touch to say that they’d found a new bar. We couldn’t wait to share the news.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, let’s rewind. What’s been happening since we last spoke?
JB: We’ve spent most of the time waiting to hear from the government about the building. It hasn’t been great… The problem is that the bar was in a 100 year-old building, so we’re not allowed to take it down but it’s at risk of collapsing. They’ve put scaffolding up from floor to ceiling to prevent it from falling down but that’s only temporary. They’re waiting for international funds to come through before they make any attempts to fix it. That’s down to the cost. It will be more than US$100,000 dollars to put it right.
So obviously you’ve had to abandon plans to set up in your original spot, at least in the short term?
JB: Yes. Because the government can’t tell us whether it’s going to take six months or three years to sort out, it forced us to think about what we were going to do going forward.
JB: We started looking for other locations but it’s not as simple as that, not in the current situation here in Lebanon… You have to make deals with new landlords and everyone wants to be paid in dollars but the currency isn’t stable here. Plus it’s impossible to pay in dollars because we can’t get dollars from customers – everyone pays for everything in Lebanese. To give you some idea of how things are, consider this: before the crisis one dollar was 1,500 Lebanese, now one dollar is 9,000. However, because of the funds we received from around the world we were able to make a deal with a landlord and we’ve taken on a new spot.
Fantastic news! Will it be Electric Bing Sutt but in a different location?
JB: Actually, no. Because we’re moving to a new location we thought, why not do something totally different? Why do another EBS? We really love EBS and where it’s located but this is new – a new situation and a new space which fits a new mood. That got us really excited
So what is the new venture all about?
JB: It’s called Dead End Paradise. It’s located in a dead end quite close to the bombing site – in fact you can see the port where the explosion took place from our terrace, so the name fits the location. But it also resonates with the concept.
Tell us more about the name and how you came up with it?
LL: After the explosion the whole area was devastated, there was garbage, broken windows and destroyed buildings everywhere. One night Jad and I were riding a bike through the streets and there were no lights to guide us and it came to me: we’re in a dead end situation in this country but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We went around to some of the bars and saw them coming back and I thought why don’t we call the bar Dead End Paradise? The people in this country are so strong – they’ve gone through wars before but they’re always very positive – the name just summed the situation up perfectly.
That’s the name, what about the mood?
JB: It’s Tiki-inspired – not tropical Tiki but the fun side – we call it modern Tiki. We were inspired by the situation here: like Lynn said, it feels like a dead end on the one hand but it’s also a sense of paradise about it. You see people out and about like nothing has happened. That’s the soul of Lebanese people: it’s easy for them to forget and move on.
After we lost the bar, we did a two-day pop-up and a lot of people came to support us. It was fun, we made some Tiki drinks and people really liked them so that got us thinking why don’t we do something different? Tiki is always happy and upbeat and we need something that people can be happy and more positive about, so that’s how we came up with this style.
As for the look: it’s not like a regular bar that you enter and see tables, chairs and a bar – we’ve made it much more playful. Inside there’s an island bar so people can see each other, an amphitheatre so you can arrange the seating how you want and enjoy a panoramic view of the action, a dance floor, disco ball, a space for eating and a mobile pole for you to dance on. Outside there’s a hammock and terrace – it’s designed like a playground.
LL: Instead of a traditional bar or restaurant, we thought “why can’t we open a playground; something fun?”.
What was the brief to your architect?
LL: We just said that “Dead End Paradise is an Asian Middle Eastern Tiki Dive bar that may not exist tomorrow”. This bar has a sense of carpe diem about it – you have fun today but you forget about it tomorrow – you can say it’s desperation but really, it’s about hope.
The result is a really colourful space with a blue light showroom lab, pink and orange walls, neon plastic furniture and purple outer facade. Everywhere you go in Beirut there’s scaffolding, so our architect suggested that we worked with the scaffold as a feature to hold benches, hammock and swings – from one of the hammocks you can see the explosion site. We’re so close to it but we’re having fun. It’s an immersive experience designed for our guests to come and forget about everything and just enjoy the space.
Whereabouts is it?
LL: It’s just by the port. Before we opened EBS, me and Andre our partner were driving around and we saw this spot – it was actually a taco place and I said, “wow, one day I’d love to take on this location”. After our bar was blown up I thought about the taco place, wondering what had happened to it. I went and saw that it had closed and that was the start of our new journey.
When did you find it and when are you planning to open?
JB: We found the space on October 15th, started construction mid-November and we’re aiming to hopefully open on January 10th.
The food was a big part of EBS, will it be the same at DEP?
JB: That’s another reason why we decided to switch the concept a little… With the crisis in Lebanon it’s very hard to import stuff – not hard but expensive to get imported stuff. As a bar based around only Asian ingredients it would have been tough to be a sustainable business in Lebanon and keep our prices affordable for our guests. So we’ve decided to change our kitchen and make it Asian American with a touch of Middle East, that way we’re not stuck in one style.
Has Covid-19 had an effect on the way that you’ve planned the venue?
JB: It’s had a major impact. Mainly because I’ve never had so much time to focus on one thing – usually when we’re making projects we have to fit them around travel, work in the bar and work on other projects. What Covid-19 gave us was time. I spent four months thinking, researching, developing and enjoying the process. We took over the kitchen in a friend’s place and set it up as a kind of lab. We stayed there for 15 days and just tested, tested, tested to develop the food and drink menus. Imagine that? I’ve never had 15 days to spend 12-13 hours just focusing on drinks. Because of that, we’ve ended up with some incredible results.
Give us a taster of some of the drinks on the menu.
JB: The menu will be divided into two sections: ‘Dead End’ and ‘Paradise’. One of the drinks I really like from the Dead End section is a twist on a Singapore Sling but it’s inspired by the explosion. The working name for it is Burnt Ashes Lebanese Sling. We took cherry stems, sage and some botanicals from Lebanon, burnt them and infused them in our homemade gin. Then we distilled it, so it’s a really, smoky, fragrant gin. We then make it, milk punch style, and instead of cherry we use a homemade pomegranate liqueur because we have a lot of pomegranates here in Lebanon. It’s clarified but it’s very fruity, smoky and complex.
For Paradise, the focus is on crowd pleasing cocktails that provide a sense of comfort and nostalgia. One of the drinks from this section is Above The Clouds, using Scotch-infused heaven flower, cinnamon, paradise pimento liqueur, grapefruit and clarified halva milk.
What about the food?
LL: The menu consists of an exotic and playful selection of Asian street comfort food, perfect for nibbles and feasts. Some examples include Balinese Hippe Quak Quak Nachos (duck confit, kashkval, nachos, Indonesian sambal tomate, spring onion, coriander), and Hanoi Highway Pork Hotdog Banh Mi (pork fennel salsicca, garlic chilli sauce, aioli, pickles and herbs).
How has the GoFundMe money helped you?
JB: There’s no way that we could have done anything without that money. In fact, this bar isn’t really ours, it belongs to everyone. Everyone from our industry contributed to it and I’m so happy to build this bar, not only for me and Lynn but for everyone – everyone is a shareholder, people we know and we don’t know. Without this money we’d be jobless; hopeless.
LL: The bar is made for everyone – everyone donated, everyone helped us to clean and put things in place – it’s made for everyone which makes it a totally democratic bar. We’re really looking forward to opening the bar and having drinks with all of the people who helped us. There’s a song called Can’t Do It Without You by Ross Lynch – I want to play that when we finally open and that will probably be the moment that I cry.
Dead End Paradise aims to open on 10th January. Follow Instagram.com/dead.end.paradise for details