If there’s one thing that suits Beirut best, it’s summertime and all the accessories that come with the season. Tan lines, beach waves, and the long enduring sunsets…we can’t help but get excited about what’s in store in the upcoming months. Clearly we aren’t the only ones that are super-enthusiastic about the summer festivities; one quick look around us, and all those tanned bodies make it pretty obvious! I mean we are only in the second week of May and everyone around us has a tan as if it’s the third week of July. With jealousy clearly running through our pale skinned bodies we wondered – where are all these people achieving the perfect sun kissed glow? The question led us to one of the original beach clubs of Beirut: Sporting Beach Club.
Sporting Beach Club is located in Al-Manara, right next to the famous Ferris wheel. Not only is it one of the most popular beach clubs in Beirut, it is also one of the originals – and to add the icing on the cake it is open all year round (yes apparently swimming in the winter in 16-degree water is considered a sport.) We wanted to meet the man behind the historical landmark that has given the people of Beirut so many memories to cherish.
Meet Walid Abou Nassar one of the three current owners of Sporting. It opened in 1953 and has been a family business since the beginning when Walid’s father opened the club. The roles are now divided amongst the three family members starting with Walid as the PR manager and concept developer, Marwan Abou Nassar as the general manager and Ralph Abou Nassar who is in charge of the overview of staff and maintenance. Combined, these three gentlemen give you the ultimate summer (and winter) experience.
When we sat down with Walid, he brought to our attention a very interesting point. Sporting never advertises; they never have T.V. or radio commercials or put up billboards because they have full trust in the service they provide. Their advertising goes by word of mouth and reputation through their clients. He explained, “The people that frequently come, build our reputation, and that kind of advertisement is worth more than any billboard – and that’s where our job comes in – we must maintain the comfort and atmosphere of these people to ensure that we meet the expectations to ensure positive feedback.”
The fact that Sporting has been around for a long time tells you that the institution is doing something right and most importantly the people love it. For someone who has been in the business for so long we knew that there had to be moments worth sharing and Walid had one he really cherished. “Throughout the years working here, I had it in my head that there are 3 generations that have been coming to Sporting. I recently found out through an article written about the club, that there was an Englishman who used to come in 1956 with his parents and grandparents, and now that he is a grandfather he plans to bring his children and grandchildren, making it 5 generations. When I read that it was one of the most rewarding feelings – it was truly something incredible.”
Sporting isn’t only where generations of families enjoy the club but also life long friendships are formed. It’s a very versatile place so different types of people come and bring their friends who then meet a new group of friends and that is how friendships and even marriages are formed! We were shocked when he said marriages! Walid smiled and said, “One of the most common things I hear amongst the members of Sporting is ‘I met my wife or husband here’ and it’s a nice feeling knowing we are the common ground for some peoples fate.”
For those who haven’t been to Sporting we will give you a small tour. There is a pool with lounge chairs surrounding it, and a small rock jetty that leads out to the sea with a killer view. There is a restaurant looking over the entire place with an extended terrace. It is very simple and clean cut yet one of Beirut’s “it” places in the summer (according to everyone’s bronzed tan.) Especially in the last couple of years beach clubs seem to be popping up everywhere, with sophisticated white interior and lounge chairs that look like they cost more than a month’s salary, but people still prefer Sporting over a lot of the over the top places. Walid explained, “Our main goal is to create an atmosphere of nostalgia, even if we were willing to renovate the place we wouldn’t because we have a certain identity and we don’t want to lose it. Of course, we’re a beach club that is in direct view of the ocean so we are constantly renovating “conservatively”; meaning we clean up the messes from the winter storms and make sure everything is perfectly intact for the summer season. Especially this year, Storm Yohan wiped out the terrace as well as the restaurant so as you can tell we’re still cleaning up damages. In order to keep our character we maintain infrastructure but keep walking on the path we always have.”
When we asked Walid what his favorite memory at Sporting was, he smiled and said, “Every corner of this place reminds me of a certain memory but if there’s one story I can recall being my favorite, it has to be the scars that people get from swimming in the rocky beach.” Scars? A good memory? Walid went on to clarify himself: “A couple years back a rumor started that Sporting was closing down, so I was sitting in the café and a woman comes up to me and asks me ‘How can you close Sporting?! You know how many memories I have here?’ They immediately started showing me the different scars they had gotten at Sporting, describing how these scars are memories of the best times of their lives and how I couldn’t take that away – At the time I smiled and told them we weren’t even thinking of it.”
Walid has a son who is currently working in the States, but he ensures us that his son will take over the business one day. He explained to us since it is an old family business it runs on its own momentum and all you have to do is maintain the pace: “It is a fun job and entertaining to say the least, and it’ll be the perfect “retirement” job for my son one day. As a family we feel like we have a duty to maintain a place for all the generations that have been coming here, and to try and maintain a sense of identity for Beirut and we hope that we don’t end up being the only old family business thinking in this manner.”
Here’s to another 60 years of Sporting!
Sporting Beach Club is located in Al Manara, for more information, call them on 01 742 482.