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The opening of Hard Rock Cafe inside the Bay View Hotel in Beirut’s seaside Ain al-Mreisseh neighborhood was hailed, back in 1996, as a symbol of Beirut’s reconstruction.
It quickly became a landmark of Downtown Beirut, most of which had yet to be resurrected. Even the iconic Phoenicia Hotel would not reopen its doors until 2000.
Sunday night saw an end to that legacy as Hard Rock Cafe Beirut cashed out its guitar-shaped bar for the last time. Three years of rapidly declining tourism to the country — due in large part to the war in Syria which has led to a string of explosions and kidnappings here — had deprived the international rock’n’roll chain of much of its client base.
“Since opening its doors in 1996, Hard Rock has enjoyed a rich history and has appreciated the opportunity to serve guests in Beirut,” read a message posted on Hard Rock Cafe’s Facebook page over the weekend. By Thursday, that page was deleted from Facebook and Hard Rock’s international site no longer listed its Beirut’s location.
Hard Rock Beirut’s employees were put under strict orders from the chain’s headquarters in Orlando, Florida, not to speak to media about the restaurant or the terms of its closing, staff members told The Daily Star. Some information was collected on background.
Hard Rock Beirut’s statement offered a glimmer of hope that a new branch would open in the future. But Wednesday afternoon, the assistant general manager posted a call for anyone interested in buying used restaurant equipment.
With everything up for sale, a new branch won’t be opening anytime soon.
Over the weekend, the announcement triggered an enormous response from Hard Rock guests here and abroad and locals gobbled up the rest of Hard Rock Beirut merchandise — now limited edition.
In a solemn ode to Hard Rock Beirut, Radio One called for rock music requests from its listeners Sunday to mourn its closing.
The restaurant had a long list of notable clientele, many of them were from the country’s foreign embassies or members of UNIFIL. A former staff member recalled how their security details and bodyguards used to hang out around the bar while they ate.
The end of Hard Rock also means the end of beer and wings Monday — which drew enough local guests to pack the dining room even in its final weeks. Nachos, the “Legendary Burger,” and the Jumbo Combo, greasy classic American favorites, were the restaurant’s most popular items.
Among those devastated by the closing were Hard Rock Beirut’s own employees, past and present, many of whom saw their colleagues as a family, one which spanned beyond Lebanon’s borders.
Staff nicknames were also a part of the Hard Rock Beirut culture. “Alex” was one of those so-nicknamed employees. Alex hasn’t worked at the restaurant for several years, but he said the name has stayed with him.
Part of the fun of working at Hard Rock was its international clientele, he added. A Russian family that traveled to Beirut each December always remembered to drop off a collectable Hard Rock pin from Hard Rock Cafe Moscow and other branches.
“You name it, guest were from all over. There wasn’t one place in the Middle East that didn’t come: Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco. All over the States, big business guys, pilots and architects,” Alex said. “I’m still in love with Hard Rock.”