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Jane Smith 29 Aug 2012

Underage Drinking in Lebanon

The bartender, a curly-haired girl no older than 16, pours cheap tequila shots over and over again, while her co-worker, a tall boy, doubtfully overage, gets a bottle from under the bar to mix gin and tonic for an older customer. The tiny pub in Gemmayzeh is crowded with plenty of noisy teenagers and only a handful of adults who don’t seem at ease with their neighbors. One of the younger boys downs a tequila shot and starts laughing when asked about his age before making a vulgar comment.

“I have no clue if these kids are underage or not, but you can’t really be sure because I don’t think anybody asks for their ID,” one of the men sitting at the bar, an American, says. “But I am definitely not comfortable with a little girl pouring my drinks. I’m drinking my beer and I’m out of here, regardless of how cheap the booze is. These guys are just too noisy,” he points out, shrugging.

Renowned for its cheap drinks, the pub is one of the few places in central Beirut where the bouncer doesn’t ask for IDs. According to most bartenders and pub managers, curious teenagers are not usual customers of pubs in Lebanon. Only a few cheap pub owners in Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael and Hamra risk a fine from the Tourism police by closing their eyes to underage drinking.

“This is just a theory, of course. Pubs are rarely controlled by the police,” explained George Khoury, whose real name has been changed for this article. Khoury, the manager of a well-known pub in Hamra, told Beirut.com, “It’s just a moral issue for us and most pubs and clubs do not to let anybody under 18 in. It’s the policy of most pubs, restaurants and bars in Beirut.”

But right outside the pub’s door, in front of a small minimarket, a group of teenagers have parked their mopeds and stand huddled together joking and watching girls pass by as they smoke and sip their beer bottles. “The supermarkets and the minimarkets are a totally different story,” comments Joe Khalil, whose real name has also been changed for this article. A pub owner in Hamra, Khalil insists “We don’t let these kids in under any circumstances because they cost us more than they actually pay. They usually get really noisy and they bother the rest of the customers. That is if they want to come in to begin with because most of them can’t even afford a drink in a pub.” Khalil also explained that all minimarkets and supermarkets sell alcohol to minors and no authority has ever taken notice of that. “Even I got drunk for the first time when I was 13 and the minimarket where I bought the bottle from still exists!” he said, laughing.

Rami Georges, a bartender in Gemmayzeh, also said that some teenagers do manage to slip into pubs by bribing the bouncers. “Underage drinking in pubs is not that common. Sometimes, you’ll find one or two minors who managed to get in with the help of a connection or simply because they look older than they actually are. They usually come from wealthy families and are not there for the alcohol, but more for show than anything else. They are not going to pay the entrance fee in an expensive pub just to have a drink. They will order a drink and hang out with the cool crowd just to show off in front of their friends,” he says.

The law does exist. If the police catch a minor drinking in your pub, the pub is fined and they have the right to close down the place. “I have never heard of a case like this, though. I’ve heard of fines, but never about a pub closed down because it allowed underage drinking,” Georges says. “There is always the ‘wasta’ doing its job,” he jokes.