BLACKLISTED: Zaatar w Zeit Hamra Branch Refuses to Serve Pork and Alcohol on the Menu

20130313_194115After being tipped off by several readers that ZwZ on Hamra street has enforced strict Islamic laws when it comes to their menu, I decided to verify it myself tonight and headed down there around 6:00PM.

I sat down, ordered a ham and cheese mankooshe. The waiter suggested cheese and turkey, so I asked if they were out of ham or something, he ensured me that that specific branch does not serve pork. I ordered something else “halal” and then asked for an Almaza, he said alcohol was not served at that branch either.

I love choice, freedom, honesty, transparency. Which means, I don’t like religion and it being forced down my throat (or forcing me to not force something in particular down my throat). The franchisee might have every right to do that in his/her own brand, but when I go into a ZwZ, I expect the ZwZ menu, not the Muslim Brotherhood one.

The service was amazing and the staff was the best ZwZ staff I’ve seen, but whoever franchised this branch, is obviously a religious radical who I can assure you, will never see my business again. I don’t like people telling me what I can and cannot do based on their personal beliefs, especially when they don’t warn me of their radicalism before I take a seat at their establishment.

I understand extremists will behave that way, and so I won’t give the franchisee much lip, after all, why would I expect anything better from someone so backward? It’s ZwZ’s “central command” I’m disappointed in, who sold out items on their menu for a mere franchising contract.

I highly suggest you go to the Bliss or Ashrafieh branches, where Zaatar w Zeit didn’t sell out cheap and cave to religious conservatives to sign a contract. It’s sad really, I like ZwZ, especially after clubbing. Now, I’ll be on the hunt for somewhere else, and hoping this specific branch goes out of business.

Now, before you Islamists start sending me death threats and stuff, please know that if a place stops serving meat during Christian lent, I’ll boycott it just as much. This isn’t about me being raised a Christian, I am an atheist, and ardent in my lack of belief in gods and religions and find it extremely insulting that I don’t have a choice of what to eat when it’s listed on the menu. I’m not forcing anyone to eat pork and drink beer, but I utterly despise someone telling me I can’t. Let people choose.

So, despite the great service and kind-hearted staff, I cannot but blacklist this branch for refusing to serve items on the menu for religious purposes, without giving customers prior knowledge before going in.

UPDATE

After this post really got around and Zaatar w Zeit commented on this post and on their 107K+ Facebook page, here are some clarifications:

  • The branch is not franchised, it’s owned by the same company as all other ZwZs (which makes it even more upsetting for me)
  • The leasing contract dictated those terms, and not the franchisee (doesn’t change the main point though)
  • Other restaurants in this center also adhere to that religious ban, but I am not sure what they all are and if all of them have different branches and if their menus contain pork or alcohol, but it is not served for the religious reasons stated (will look into those places too, to be fair and not single out ZwZ but all the others who did not announce these religious changes to the menu)
  • My point is that the menu should have changed in that branch and the changes announced (which ZwZ did today after this post) so that people who prefer free-thinking and religious-ban-free establishments not go and spend their money there.
  • I don’t want every single place in the world to sell pork and alcohol. I’m not a big fan of either. My point is, you can do whatever you want. But, when you’re a branch of a chain and you have the items on your menu, I expect that not to change for religious purposes regardless of areas and bigoted landlords. If it does though, and I understand that from a business angle, tell us, so we avoid it if we want to.
  • My About page clearly states I’m not a fan of religious oppression and my writing style is irreverent so please stop dictating to me what I should do like your leaders and gods dictate onto you. I’m free to say what I want and if you’d bother to look beyond this post and your minds limited by religious bigotry, you’d realize my point is valid, regardless of what hell you believe I’m going to.

Read up on the comments ZwZ’s status received here if you feel like it and are curious what folks are saying there.

BLACKLISTED: Virgin Online Ticketing

So, after my tour in the US a couple of months ago, I got used to the idea of buying everything online beforehand. Concert tickets, hotel reservations, plane fares, bus rides, etc. It’s an awesome way to buy things, especially since you get a discount or an offer, seeing how you’re doing the printing and not them.

Naturally, I assumed the same thing happened with the Virgin Ticketing Box Office website. Boy was I wrong, it was a nightmarish procedure which I will never ever do again and neither should you, and here’s why:

No Tickets Online

Usually, when you buy a ticket online, the “ticket” appears after you pay with your credit card and you print it. You get the print out, show up at whatever you’re going to and get in. That saves you waiting in line, or having to go early to wherever the venue is and buying the physical ticket. That’s what I did when I bought tickets to a Broadway show, my bus fares, my train ride and my airplane tickets!

On Virgin’s website, you just get told to go pick it up from a branch. WHAT. THE. FUCK. Why the hell would I buy them online if I’m gonna have to pick them up physically from their store?!

+3.5% Extra!?

They make you pay EXTRA for buying online! It should be cheaper! You’re saving them the actual ticket and printing, as well as the employee’s time who would’ve otherwise issued your ticket… Why the fuck would they make you pay the extra money?! ESPECIALLY when they don’t actually give me the ticket online, in which case I’d forget about the 3.5% extra charge…

90′s Style Website

It’s slow, ugly, clunky, glitchy and often labeled wrong. The seating arrangements are often redundant or of another venue or concert. I was scared to enter my credit card details in such a poorly designed website, but I was desperate and needed tickets ASAP to give as a present

The Excuses

When I found out you don’t actually get the tickets, I flipped out! I went down to a Virgin Megastore branch and demanded a full refund, including the +3.5%. I told them it’s a disgrace, and why the hell would they offer such an anti-service. The reason? “For those who live abroad” Seriously? -_-

First of all, you should warn us the tickets aren’t actually issued online. There is no such warning or disclaimer. Second, what kinda fucked up logic is that? You make me pay more to secure my spot and then ask me to do the same procedure I would’ve done without the website? What’s that, watching customers fight over scraps and letting the ones with the credit card and ability to pay extra win? Very consumer-friendly, bravo.

And why don’t you clarify that that shitty service is intended for people abroad? I wouldn’t have wasted my time and money on it! Also, I’m certain not a large enough part of the audience is from abroad, so I’m not buying that excuse, it’s just a scam to milk more money out of you for no real service. Oh, and it’s nonrefundable…

Just Issue Them Online

Would it be so hard? To create a page with a barcode that would be your actual ticket? Which would make shopping online advantageous to physically going there?

Until they fix all those things, Virgin gets 5 fingers for being stupid, malevolent, rude and useless with their online ticketing services.

Screenshots of the ugly website:

BLACKLISTED: Pinkberry ABC Ashrafieh


After a fulfilling sushi dinner in ABC Ashrafieh, Lori and I decided to finally try out Pinkberry. Even though I promised myself after their nauseatingly horrible radio ad jingle that I’d never go there, I decided to give them a chance, after all maybe the marketer on that day was severely retarded or drunk.

The only encounter I’ve had with frozen yogurt was in Beirut Souks at “From the Tree” where for 5,000 LBP you can get a cup of froyo with 2 or 3 toppings (if memory serves right). With that kind of price there, the seemingly uber-friendly Pinkberry server’s “5000LBP per cup plus 4 toppings” sounded reasonable and didn’t arouse my suspicions.

After tasting the flavors and choosing our favorites, I chose my four toppings and so did Lori. We then proceeded to the counter where the cashier asked for 20,500LBP (corrected), which as you might imagine is a lot more than we signed up for. I inquired why the server and the large billboard menu said “5,000 LBP per small cup”, the cashier said we had misunderstood and started speaking fast, muffled phrases of why the price more than tripled suddenly.

Then again, I’m not particularly stupid. So, I decided not to let it go. I aske why did the server specify four toppings, and the other server stressed that one particular topping was for extra charge (meaning the 4 others supposedly weren’t). Then, in a miserably fake attempt at being concerned, the cashier said “I would give it to you for 5,000LBP, but you already paid”. This scumbag, condescending attitude, not the 20thou+ price tag, is what pissed me off.

I told him we were told something different, and that’s it’s their fault for purposefully misleading us. Then I proceeded to tell him that I don’t want the item anymore, and again he said “you already paid”. WTF?! I then asked him sarcastically, “do you expect us to come here again?” and was met with a stupid smirk like the tone he gave while grinning “You already paid”.

So, I threw the piece of trash yogurt and sorry excuse for toppings in the garbage and left yet another example of zero respect for the customer and nearsightedness in business. Pinkberry might’ve ripped me off and gotten away with it, but I am never going there again and I expect many others will do the same. Their products are also severely overpriced, with the same being offered elsewhere and in Lebanon for just half of the price.

So, Pinkberry gets 3 fingers. Why? Cause I shouldn’t have expected more from the franchisee to whom alcohol is a no-no, and from a froyo place… I also shouldn’t have taken the staff’s word and looked more closely at what they place had to offer. Granted that was a mistake I made, the treatment afterwards by the staff was what landed Pinkberry on my Blacklist.

BLACKLISTED: SkyBar Beirut


Among the few things I pride myself on knowing well and having extensive experience in is the stuff we do at night. No, I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about what happens before (if ever) we copulate: the rituals we perform as we drink and move to a calculated sequence of synthetic voices and beats.

The thousands of hours I’ve clocked in at clubs have been some of my best and of course some of my worst. I’ve been to the most underground hell-hole of a party, to the stinky rich glam-fests that your ears are drilled with every time you turn on your radio.

I don’t really drink alcohol and apart from Coke (as in Coca Cola) my only fix is clubbing. It is, as the wise Maxi Jazz (Faithless) put it “this is my church, this is where I heal my hurts.” I’m also fascinated by the many types of music, venues and of course people which engage in these nocturnal activities that separate us from our purely evolutionarily-driven animal relatives, and of course religiously-paralyzed neighboring countries.

After this elaborate display of my night-time pedigree, I’ll move on to the main course. I am, as of now, Blacklisting Sky Bar Beirut. Yes, take a few seconds to let that sink in… Readers who are by now accustomed to my writing, know I take pride in destroying the things people hold sacred and untouchable for silly purposes. It seems Sky Bar has become one of those things, and like every other person and thing who think they’re sacred, have become sloppy and stupid with their dealings.

I have been going to Sky Bar since 2009. This bastion of needless displays of extravagance and overly-absurd door policy was the go-to place if you wanted to be someone in the Lebanese clubbing world. Their notoriety at the door though, was simply that, notoriety. The fables you’d hear of the tragedies of not being let in, or blacklisted or whatever, were overly exaggerated. That worked well for Sky though, for if you heard that Sky Bar was like Fort Knox, you wouldn’t bother trying to get in except if your nose was held pretty high, or you enjoyed a slightly above average IQ to know that at the end of the day, its the dollar that speaks best, not your beauty genes. This made life a lot easier for the management.

Bit by bit, Sky Bar became more and more of a sacred temple that would always be awesome, always be the best, always be the biggest. The same happens with people who own Macs (myself included): if a mac crashes, we keep it to ourselves and pretend it was divine intervention, but if a Microsoft-powered machine hiccups, we burn it at the stake. That’s exactly what’s happening with Sky Bar.

I’m sad I’m the one that has to bring this up, but it seems no one else has the guts to do it. Why? Because those who get in covet their access like a prized possession, and those who don’t, suddenly pretend to be socialist heroes who are champions of humility and opposed to the lavish lifestyle Sky Bar represents.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up. I’m definitely not a socialist, for starters. And the reason is because I have been denied access to Sky Bar three times this year. Here’s a detailed description of each time.

The first time, I came to Sky Bar at 12:30AM and my friends were already up. The new shell of a human being they’ve assigned to guard the door didn’t like the idea I was, according to her, “late” and “without a date.” This of course was said, as she let in groups of guys wearing glittery t-shirts. She was new to me, so I hopped back into my car and went to party elsewhere that night, not wanting to make a fuss.

The second time, I sinned and showed up wearing a polo shirt, pants and birkenstocks. Yes, horrible, I know. But, they had a point, it does not comply with Sky Bar’s dress-code. So, I was a good boy, shut up and went to change, came back a little while later. That’s when the incredibly intelligent female door master and her equally gifted muscly friends with iPads decided they were smart and witty enough to sell me “sa7eb el ma7al halla2 2alna ma baddo 7ada yfoot” (the owner just told us he doesn’t want anyone to come in).

Yes, they actually said that to me... They actually expected me to believe that the mythical owner sent them his thoughts and wishes telepathically, or better yet, came down his throne to physically inform them he didn’t want anyone going in anymore. Of course, some people did go in despite the royal order. Allow us to stoop to their level for an instant and believe that the owner did in fact give this order. Wow, brilliant order, denying paying customers that have a reservation and are abiding by your door policy!

The third time, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t my fault, and dressed in the same clothes I wore to my grandfather’s funeral and was there at 9:30PM. A shirt, suit-pants and formal leather shoes, could it get any more formal? We had a reservation and I made sure there was more estrogen than testosterone in our small group before going down. Yet, even this third time, the genius with the iPad decides I dont qualify for the dress-code. When asked which part of the dress didn’t fit the code, the answer of a person who never had the satisfaction of getting past the sixth grade was given.

Now, this is coming after my history last year in the club. There were some weeks in 2010, where 6 days out of 7, we’d be at Sky Bar. Heck, we even knew most of the waiters on a first-name basis. We grew accustomed to the playlists, our regular tables and seats and the whole Sky Bar experience which made summer in Beirut what it is.

This year, we’ve been graced with the new White venue and a brand new club, Pier 7, which rival Sky Bar on several aspects. Before you dismiss this as if you were some enlightened nightlife fairy, consider the differences between these 3, or better yet, what Sky Bar has to offer that the other two don’t have? I’ll admit Pier 7 is fairly new, and several hiccups have set it back somewhat in our minds. But White, well, in terms of capacity, entertainment, venue and clientele, it’s every bit as good as Sky Bar. Sky Bar’s feeble attempt at revamping its venue with the LED-screen walls, though wicked-awesome, pales in comparison with White’s transformation.

Anyway, we’re not here to compare the three, but deep down you know I’m right about Sky Bar not offering anything special anymore. Proof of this is plentiful, if you would just bother to look at the past “accomplishments” of the club:

  1. Sky Bar was NEVER, EVER, EVER number 1. There isn’t a chart in the world that lists it at the top, ever. I challenge anyone to find it.
  2. Sky Bar first entered DJmag’s rankings last year as the world’s number 51 club. It now stands at 62, tumbling an embarrassing 11 places, while clubs like B018 sky-rocketed from #68 to #40 (read more here + sources)
  3. You might say that DJmag’s polls are a bit old? Not recent enough? Well, the results of the poll I ran on the blog a couple of weeks ago corroborate the claim that Sky Bar isn’t really all that anymore (scroll up a bit)

What’s more important is that I’m confident I am not the only one that has had to put up with this deteriorating door policy, where the door staff are rude enough to admit the only reason you’re not getting in is because they don’t want you to, not based on something you’ve done wrong. That’s why, to avoid me looking like a child with a grudge, I am adding this poll for you to relate, or not relate to what I have explained above.

A club is an establishment aimed at entertaining, feeding and pouring drinks for paying customers. If someone has reserved and meets the requirements, the club has no right whatsoever to deny him or her entry. Moreover, they can teach their door staff manners.

(Rumor has it that the female at the door was bitch-slapped by an angry customer for denying her entry, too bad for the doorwoman the woman trying to enter was related to someone higher up. If the rumors are true, I salute the woman who dealt the slap, cheers to you my good lady!)

Till then, I strongly recommend you steer away from Sky Bar. There are plenty of other, funner venues where you are treated as a human being and where they know how to properly treat their customer, instead of denying a longtime Sky Barer friend of mine the table he wanted because he was a “child” and later sending the higher-ups pleading for his cold, hard cash again a day later. I am disappointed by this year’s performance, which is manifesting itself slowly, especially with the 9-DJ lineup dwindling and Sky Bar’s excuse for being liked: their dedication of Mondays to charities, slowly giving way to MixFM’s “decadance” events. Shame on you Sky Bar.

So, I am never setting foot again in Sky Bar except maybe on a Monday, when the door goons have no jurisdiction and the money is going for a good cause (not MixFM).

Rating: 5 fingers, and the only reason I didn’t add a sixth one, is because I encourage you to go on Mondays and support the charities!

Please Read this more recent post after reading. Thanks!

BLACKLISTED: Bob’s Diner Citymall

Most of you might not know this, but several restaurants that offer free soft drink refills, offer them in draft form or in a can. To give a few examples, Zaatar w Zeit, Roadster Diner and Deek Duke all offer both types for the same price.

One time, we decided to go to Bob’s Diner. When ordering, I asked the waiter, three times, if they offered can refills. I made it very clear that instead of a draft coke, I wanted one in a can, and asked if its refills would be free. I was assured it was. I drank 3 Pepsi cans that day. Then, the bill came, and lo and behold, the price of the Pepsi cans exceed that of my meal. Furious, I politely questioned the waiter about it. Nothing happened.

Furious, I filled in a comment card expressing my deep displeasure. A few seconds later, the “manager” comes marching along, my comment card in his hand, and rudely asked “What’s the problem?” (shu el mishkle) After explaining, he responded “That’s it?” (bass heik?).

First and foremost, the incompetent manager actually read the comment card on the spot, instead of forwarding it as-is to his higher-ups. Second, he was rude. Third, he made me pay for a mistake they had done. That, compared to customer service elsewhere and in similar establishments, makes Bob’s Diner the first Blacklisted restaurant on the Gino’s Blog Blacklist.

Fingers: 3/5 since I shouldn’t have expected more

Introducing the Blog’s Blacklist

I love trying stuff and love reviewing them for you guys even more. I’m often criticized for being too nice, for leaving out the bad stuff or softening the edges. I completely agree, I do that. If I go somewhere and hate it, I don’t write about it versus portray the negativity. However, that’s not fair and I feel I have an obligation to be frank about my bad experiences, for perhaps my humble opinion or advice, might save you the trouble I had to go through.

I hereby introduce you all to the Gino’s Blog Blacklist. The Blacklist is a whole new category which will include all the restaurants, pubs, clubs and other venues/events/organizers/brands/companies and virtually everything else that in my opinion is at fault, mistreated its customers or grievously insulted or disappointed me.

For someone or someplace to get on the Blacklist, it’ll have to be a cardinal sin. The Blacklist listing isn’t final though, for if the concerned party changes (which I sincerely doubt) I might consider dropping them off the list.

I know this might seem somewhat arrogant of me, but I am merely stating my opinion and making a case for it. You can agree, or disagree. I guess the real purpose behind this list is for you to get an idea before venturing to that somewhere or something and perhaps running through the same problems I had to tolerate. It’ll also allow me to return the favor to the concerned party *evil grin*

I hope you like the ambigram I borrowed off a VoIP abusing website! The first entry on the Blacklist will be on Saturday!