Location: Saifi Urban Gardens, Pasteur Str, behind Coral Gas Station, Beirut, Lebanon
Opened: Late summer 2006
Closed: January 2007
If you were to read this old description of Coup d'Etat from Time Out Beirut, you would think that Coup d'Etat was just another bar--pleasant enough, but nondescript:
Coop d'Etat [sic] is a charming hidden party spot amongst the rooftops of Gemmayzeh. Situated in the serene city escape of Saifi Urban Gardens make it up the old darkened stairs to the roof and you'll be in for a treat. A large rooftop terrace bar with live music, dancing, reasonably priced drinks and an intellectual artsy crowd with a glittering view of Beirut.
But according to bekhsoos.com ("a queer arab magazine"), Coup d'Etat soon became one of the top ten "gay hangouts" in Beirut--and the first and only "lesbian hangout":
However, the death of Coup d'Etat was not simply due a lack of lesbian financial resources. It was part of a very brief flowering of gay and lesbian possibilities in Beirut, just after the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. An August 2007 piece by Katherine Zoeph in the New York Observer explains this wider political context:
The Middle East's first openly lesbian bar, Coup d'Etat, was launched in Beirut late last summer, shortly after an internationally-brokered ceasefire ended the month-long war between Israel and the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah.
There was little fanfare. Beirut's streets were no longer reverberating to the sound of nightly Israeli air strikes, but as thousands of refugees returned home and reconstruction efforts commenced, it didn't seem like the right time to throw a wild party, Coup d'Etat's owner, Raed Habib, said.
"We kept things very low-key," Mr. Habib recalled. "It was a terrible war that we had last summer, and we knew we'd offend some people by celebrating this very sexual place in that context. There was a small party, yes, but Coup d'Etat opened quietly."
Yet Coup d'Etat opened all the same, and the launch of the cozy two-story lounge bar on a side street in the western Beirut neighborhood of Hamra a year ago became one in a series of historic Beirut firsts for the Middle East's often beleaguered gay community.
For a while, Beirut looked like a "beacon of hope" or "safe haven" for Arab gays and lesbians--despite the fact that homosexuality continued to be illegal in Lebanon. In 2005, Helem, the first Arab gay civil rights organization was founded. A gay magazine followed shortly thereafter. There was even a march for gay rights--the first to be held in the Mideast outside of Israel.
But sure enough, these days of even modest tolerance were numbered. As political turmoil and assassinations recommenced, any possibility for a public lesbian space quickly expired. As Zoeph sadly concludes,
In January, the first lesbian bar in the Middle East closed its doors as quietly as it first opened them, because gay Lebanese women were staying at home, and gay visitors from other parts of the Middle East simply weren't coming to Lebanon any longer.