Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ministry shuts down 20 Gemmayzeh night spots

Ministry shuts down 20 Gemmayzeh night spots
By Michael Bluhm
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Although the Tourism Ministry closed 20 bars and restaurants in Gemmayzeh Wednesday, a senior ministry official said most would likely reopen soon, while the ministry would continue Thursday to shut down establishments throughout Beirut which do not have or are violating their operating licenses. As the ministry stepped into the long-simmering tension between Gemmayzeh residents and bar and restaurant owners, the two groups Wednesday agreed to form a new joint committee to draft a code of ethics for nightlife in the district, while Gemmayzeh Mayor Elie Nassar said the residents did not want the enterprises to disappear but only to abide by the law. Many of the proprietors of the Gemmayzeh pubs closed by the ministry began Wednesday to negotiate with the ministry to fulfill their licensing obligations, said ministry director general Nada Sardouk. "We have 20 decrees to close these bars and pubs to tell them that they need to resolve their situations," Sardouk told The Daily Star on Wednesday. "Eighty percent of [the establishments in Gemmayzeh] are working normally, and they have licenses. Twenty percent of them are chaotic." "All of them need to settle the noise and the music and the way they run their businesses," she added. "You cannot have music until six in the morning. We are going to settle on rules and a code of ethics between them and the residents." Ministry officials tied shut the doors of the 20 bars and restaurants on Wednesday morning, leaving notices inside plastic bags on the strings. Despite taking this step, Sardouk said some 16 of the targeted bars and restaurants probably "will be opening soon" once they meet the ministry's conditions. However, the ministry will shut down another two or three Gemmayzeh establishments on Thursday, as well as 10 other bars and restaurants in the city which are violating ministry regulations, Sardouk said. While the Gemmayzeh contretemps has attracted the media's attention, the ministry also shut down watering holes in Hamra, Sanayeh and Sin al-Fil on Wednesday, Sardouk added.

The anger of Gemmayzeh residents erupted Saturday night, when dozens blocked the neighborhood's main thoroughfare for hours while dressed in pajamas and carrying pillows to symbolize the sleepless nights caused by the unending din from the nightly merrymaking. Aside from the noise of the enterprises' music and from patrons in the streets, locals' complaints have also centered on the thorny issue of valet parking, which residents claim creates unceasing traffic there and robs them of parking spots. The new joint committee will meet on Thursday night to hash out a set of rules, after which they will address valet parking, said committee co-founder Makram Zaaneh. The proposed regulations set a closing time of midnight during weeknights and 1:30 a.m. on the weekends, as well as regular monitoring of noise levels, said Nassar. "If laws are applied and the officials work on adjusting all cases [of those closed Wednesday], we don't have a problem" with nightlife continuing in Gemmayzeh, Nassar said. "We did not do that to close anybody. Those who gave the permit to open are those who closed them." If an enterprise in Gemmayzeh violates the new rules, the committee will file a complaint with the ministry to close the offending establishment, Zaaneh said. To ease the chronic traffic congestion in Gemmayzeh, residents and proprietors are asking the city to open a parking lot at the Charles Helou bus station for Gemmayzeh patrons, the mayor also said he wants to arrange a shuttle service from the station to the nightlife hub. Nassar will meet with Beirut officials on Thursday, he said. With the paucity of parking, many Gemmayzeh patrons gladly use the valet parking services, but Zaaneh said the valets must respect that residents have top priority. "Valet parking is necessary, provided they follow the rules - but we can do without, if they are a nuisance and a problem for us," Zaaneh added

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