Posters of revolutionary figures such as Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat decorate the walls of an area able to accommodate no more than 25 people at a time. Behind the bar stands Therese, more popularly known as Imm Elie, preparing food and singing along to Fairuz’s Kifak Inta, which plays in the background. She is a quaint, blonde woman married to the owner of the bar, who only comes down to the place late at night. The bar is conveniently and simply “Abu Elie Pub.”
“We started around 1983 or 84,” a reflecting Imm Elie recalls. While she can’t quite remember the year, one thing she’s sure of is the reason this bar came to be. “Abu Elie has his own political opinions and values and he opened this place to make a statement,” she explained.
Opening its doors during the Lebanese civil war, Abu Elie Pub started off as a place where a close-knit group of people could come together. Through word of mouth, though, more and more people found out about it.
Along with alcohol, the bar serves foods ranging from chicken wings and potato wedges, to taouk and kafta sandwiches. The food is prepared on the spot by Imm Elie herself.
It seems that it wasn’t Abu Elie’s concern to create a successful, profitable business. Imm Elie explains that the bar was opened as a message more than a business, and is just a way of life for them. Looking at the flags and souvenirs scattered around the bar, it is not hard to see that this message is one pertaining to leftist revolutionary ideology . “The day the bar turns commercial is the day we’ll stop working,” Imm Elie said, passionately.
The middle-aged woman said that the bar, located on Karakas Street, was robbed more than once during the war. Thugs did not only steal money, but also valuables belonging to Abu Elie. “I don’t think it had anything to do with us being Christians in the West,” Imm Elie said. “I think they didn’t like our politics.”
The most striking thing about the bar is its distinctive design. It lies behind a sliding glass door which carries posters bearing revolutionary quotes, an unlikely entrance to our common day bars. Bullets lie on the shelves and a hammer and sickle, a widely recognized communist symbol, are stuck to the ceiling. The walls are barely visible due to the endless sea of posters and pictures. According to Imm Elie, her husband first put up pictures of people he admired for their ideologies and views. His friends who frequent the bar started doing the same, as did their other friends, until the walls became completely covered.
The spontaneous decorating didn’t stop there. The wall behind the bar is also impossible to see, as pictures and notes left on currency are plastered all across. “Abu Elie, the revolution starts with you,”reads a 1,000 LBP note.
“There’s another layer under the one you see,” Imm Elie said with a chuckle. “This is 30 years of memories made by our customers.”
Imm Elie said that everyone who stumbles on the bar comes back with friends, and even tourists in the country do the same. She believes that this is because the bar is a comfortable place to be in. “I like people to feel like they’re being welcomed into my home,” she explained.
Apparently, a lot of the bar’s first customers still visit regularly. “Some people can’t come all way down here anymore,” she said. “But now their children do.”
To stand within walls that hold a great deal of history may be overwhelming for some, yet Imm Elie doesn’t pay it much notice. “Maybe I’m just used to it now,” she said with a smile.
When asked if she had ever imagined that the bar would still be running 30 years later, she gave a stern nod in response. She explained that when people do things they really believe in, they can expect these things to go on for a long time. “Whether the bar is successful or not is not Abu Elie’s main concern,” she insisted. “His message is; not everything is about money.”
By Lama Al-Haqhaq
LAU Tribune contributor