In the summer of 1956 (…) I frequented Sporting Club, a new beach club just below Eden Roc, built on the rocks with a spirited café, numerous sunbathing areas, and a bar. “Sporting,” as it was known, had several inlets into which the sea flowed, and where when the water was not too rough, one could hire a rowboat and go out toward Pigeon rock and the cool caverns just beyond. I suggested to Eva that we do just that, the sea being wonderfully placid, the sunlight piercingly luminous, the whole scene suffused with a sense of marvellous, calming stillness. She sat on the seat facing me as I rowed out of the Sporting’s precincts and then diagonally back into the huge rocks whose shelter from inquisitive eyes we both seemed to want.
Edward Said, “Out of Place: A Memoir” (1999)
Cedric Bardawil writes in the opening paragraph of his invite for Six Days at the Sporting Club, ‘Who would have thought that in 1953, someone would create a beach club that could withstand a devastating 15-year long civil war, the ’82 Israel – Lebanon conflict and being submerged in the Mediterranean Sea each winter?’
Six Days at the Sporting Club – a photography exhibition by Cedric Bardawil – ran from 8 December 2017 to 31 Jan 2018 at Benk + Bo in London. The exhibition offered a glimpse at the oldest beach club in Beirut, Lebanon. Right in the heart of the city, the club is hidden behind the hectic streets of Ras Beiurt and nestled behind Beirut ferris wheel. The Sporting Club was inspired by American popular culture, beach boys, beach girls and the beginnings of jet set. You can see clips online of the 1966 film ‘Agent 505: Death Trap in Beirut’, parts of it were shot at the Sporting. In its heyday, the club was a meeting ground for important local figures: politicians, intellectuals, socialites. It’s where many decisions that shaped the country were made.
Bardawil explains that ‘the Sporting Club in Beirut, Lebanon is the product of George Abu-Nassar’s vision. His creative, uncompromising approach to business, the struggle to keep it alive and the folly that came with it. Almost 65-years later, the Sporting still exists and continues to thrive.’
The exhibition’s 26 photographs were taken at the club over six days in August 2017, yet Bardawil managed to capture in them the 65 year-old history of the place; the people, the vibe, the aesthetics, the original architecture, the 35 mm film, the vibrant blue of the sea and the sunny skies take you back in time. They demonstrate how little has changed in this Beirut gem since the 60’s and yet how much it has witnessed. Today, as it is described on Beirut.com, you’ll find every type of Lebanese character there: from beautifully bronze Lebanese women soaked in coconut oil, to sweet old men playing backgammon with their childhood friends, to groups of young girls and boys playing basketball, to party-loving twenty-somethings drinking beers and enjoying music on their portable speakers. The beach is renowned for its authentic Lebanese vibe, as well as for its unmatched simplicity that coincides with an equally unmatched sense of luxury.
An accompanying feature on the Sporting Club, including a full length, unedited interview with Waleed Abu-Nassar by Cedric Bardawil is published in Kennedy Magazine Issue 7. You can read an extract of the interview below. To read the full interview you can purchase the magazine here
Let’s start with when the Sporting Club first opened and the idea behind it.
Sporting dates back to 1953, at the time my dad was studying at the American University of Beirut (AUB). He was always the guy who was out to have a good time, he wanted to come up with a business where we could earn money and have fun. The fashion of women and girls going to the beach, men going to the beach, beach bums and so on had started in Beirut. There was the St. Georges that was just opening at the time, so my dad decided that maybe he could convince some people to partner with him and open this place. There was a tiny spot here with a small café and this waterfront, so he went to his best friend’s dad and talked him into partnering with him and taking the café.
They came to this location, and he asked my dad “so you want us to take the café, and make a café and a restaurant?” my dad says “no, we’re going to take the lease for the waterfront as well. I want to open a beach club. I want to open a beach club” It took some convincing, but eventually he partnered with my dad. Sadly, this guy’s son died in a fire: the only person left was my dad whom he liked so much, he left him the club.
Shortly after my dad took the lease, people came and wanted to go swimming. He’d shut the gate and put someone the front desk to ask people if they had a membership. They would reply: “What do you mean by membership?” he said: “You have to be a member to access the club”, they would ask: “how could we become a member?” he would say: “well, you have to be referred by someone who is already a member.” My dad had no members, none whatsoever, his partner, his parents, his friends said: George you’re crazy! You’re nuts! You have a private beach all for yourself and no one can access it because there are no members. He knew what he was doing though; he distributed 100 free membership passes to his special friends and their parents. Soon enough rumour spread around Beirut, that there was this exclusive private club called the Sporting Club. All of a sudden people wanted to become a member, they would ask around and try to find someone who could vouch for them.
Kennedy Magazine. Biannual Journal of Curiosities. Issue 7. Please visit http://www.kennedymagazine.com for more info
There will be a Beirut launch event for Kennedy Magazine issue 7 at Papercup in Beirut on 19th February 2018, where Cedric Bardawil will also show a selection of photographs from the series. More info on: papercupstore.com
You can follow Cedric Bardawil’s projects and get in touch here: www.instagram.com/cedricbardawil
All photos courtesy of Cedric Bardawil