Ever had a place you've always heard of, whose name pops up in your mind as a visual of sparkling glitter lights whenever you hear it pronounced? Something you've heard so many extraordinary tales about, that you feel your life will not be complete until you set foot on its soil? For some people this will involve gawking at the Guggenheim; others may hope to photograph the Taj Mahal; some want to blow bubbles in the Great Barrier Reef.
My do-before-you-die mission has been to dance at a place called SkyBar. Being Lebanese, it would only make sense. No self-respecting Lebanese person who wants to see and be seen can say that SkyBar doesn't form part of their social fabric.
People have flocked from all corners of the globe to party under its open rooftop skies, so it was essential that I did the same if i wanted to call myself a true Beiruti.
The idea to make my do-or-die dream a reality came as a text message yesterday afternoon from La Blonde, a French friend who's lived here for a year and a half and visited the restaurant-cum-bar-cum-nighclub five times last summer.
This required a makeover. Curly hair is a very rare sight at SkyBar (even though all the girls were born with it!), so if I wanted to be Beiruti, I had to do Beiruti. One ghd session later, make-up application, new black dress, super-smooth legs, painted nails and I was ready to be zipped up to the top of the city. Due to previous nights' circumstances, I had to forego the biggest essential to being Beiruti, i.e. sky-high heels, and donned oriental-looking, wraparound flats instead.
Here's how the SkyBar process works: If you have a lot of money or a very good contact, you can call ahead of time (up to months in advance!) and book a table. My naivety had me picking up the phone yesterday after La Blonde's text message to try to make a booking. I was laughed off and told to get there early (8:30 for 9pm) if we wanted any hope of sitting around the bar. 'Fully booked' means that around 2 500 people are expected for the night.
What the tables (and their huge fee - talk last night was of a minimum of $500) get you, is booze all night long, placed on your table in the form of bottles of whiskey and vodka that you pour for yourselves. If you're feeling very rich (well, you will be if you can afford such a table), you can order food too. We arrived too late, at 10pm, and had to resort to standing and moving across from one bar to the next.
But now I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's return to our arrival. We were met in the parking (another friend drove us there) by lots of valet parking employees (according to the website, they have 100 valet parkers and 170 other staff!), one of which took the car and parked it while we were greeted at the steps by one of the many security guards in red shirts. He radioed to his colleagues up at the venue and asked if there was place for three people at the bar. Yes! We were escorted into the elevators and whisked up to the top floor, where three beautiful young women greeted us from behind a reception counter - all wearing the same dress (the most complementary uniform I've ever seen - a navy, ethereal dress that turns out to be from Zara). Walking through a passageway with creeper-lined walls surrounding little white, built-in-seating nooks, we came to the first level.
I had walked into SkyBar, voted best bar in the world in 2008 according to many websites (but I cannot find the real source of the award). It lives up to gotta-see-it expectations. Set on three levels that all look onto each other - none of them are covered - it's a dazzling spectacle of sight, sound and lots and lots of partying, with a view over the Mediterranean and on towards the city lights of towns across the way. We made our way to the top bar to order our cocktails; then to the one on the opposite end for another one, where the barman was hotter and friendlier. In the meantime, we had to dodge the waiters carrying five-litre bottles of vodka to some of the higher-paying tables, and avoid staring uncontrollably at the shorter-than-short t-shirt dresses making their way past us on red-soled Louboutin stilettos.
Later, we found a way to make our fashion observations less obvious by taking a seat on one of the luxurious white-leather sofas circling the bathroom courtyard. Here, we were able to watch as girls sauntered into the bathrooms and paraded out of them oozing the kind of dead-hot confidence that only a Lebanese woman can.
After about half and hour of front-row SkyBar Fashion Week commentary, we returned to the middle level, just in time for the real party to kick in. Up until then (say 12:30am) the music had gone from mellow, jazzy tunes while we sipped cocktails, to recogniseable dance tunes before we hit the catwalk. But now the beat had been upped, the lights were on display, throwing illuminated lines into the full-moon sky, and the fire was blown. Yip, fire - all along the overhead crossbeams, programmed to ignite Olympic torch-like flames in time with the most intense part of certain get-you-going songs.
I was taken. It might not have been the way I had always imagined heaven to be, and I'm certainly not ready to die, but SkyBar can light my fire any night.
PS. It's only open during the summer months, so come quickly! http://sky-bar.com
Cocktail-drinking party folk.
Front-row seats at SkyBar Fashion Week.