Polishing an Old Gem
The Grand Hotel Casino Ain Sofar in Beriut, Lebanon is slowly coming back to life. The classic structure, created in 1892, was the jewel of the cosmopolitan city from the turn of the 20th century until it suffered in the destruction of the Civil War. It was the host of the first live casino in the area after the authorities granted the first gambling license in Lebanon. The resort and casino went on to draw celebrities from all over the country and the region for relaxation in the opulent hotel and resort.
A developer has now taken over the property and since 2014 has been slowly and carefully renovating many of the building’s most decrepit sections, piece by piece. After a few successful years of progress with repairs, including securing the building from squatters who had moved in during its derelict years, securing the roof from the elements, and restoring electric power to the structure, he began to pave areas such as the original terrace and added safety features to allow use of the ground floor. The work has been slow as the developer carefully brings the building back to use, one area at a time.
With a few essential repairs in place, the developer allowed a visual artist to move in on the ground floor and establish a painting studio on the premises of the former hotel resort. The resulting artworks of the time that the artist has been in residence are now on display, and they capture some of the glory of the original hotel. Even the old roulette table has been set up for the opening of the gallery to display the art. While current visitors might only be able to engage in online gaming if they bring their own laptop with an Internet connection, the memories of the golden age live on in the renovation of the grand old structure.
The artist relied on artifacts, photographs, and images remaining in the old hotel as well as reference books, letters, and interviews with people who remember the place in its prime. Paintings show scenes of guests such as a legendary Lebanese violinist who often stayed at the hotel and luminaries like Omar Sharif who frequented the resort. Also depicted in oil paintings on display are the many employees, chefs, receptionists, and others who made the great hotel what it was in their daily work.
Beyond the art opening, the developer plans to continue renovations in the building and to expand its scope of services to receptions and other special events. He acknowledges the limitations of the restoration project, noting that the old building will never be a hotel and live casino again. With the current rise of online casinos, there may be gambling in the building again only when visitors bring their own laptop with an Internet connection.
The developer notes that the top floors are in an awful state of disrepair, and would require extensive work to reopen, but points out that the foundations and walls of the structure are sound, all of which gives him hope for a bright future for the aging gem. He envisions his work of restoration continuing, and expanding to improve the gardens and other public areas to host events, and perhaps even classes as a university in the future. No matter what the future holds for the former Grand Hotel and Casino Ain Sofar, though, those who have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the former glory in the paintings that have been on display can appreciate the beauty of the golden era of live casinos and resorts in the area.