Two millennia ago it was the emperor fiddling while Rome burned.
Now it’s the emperor’s children dancing while Damascus starves.
The fashionable Z Bar is located just 4 miles from the neighborhoods where Syrians are starving to death.
This dance club is hot. Take a peek at the pictures online of this hidden underworld of hedonism, drinking and partying. You’d never know so much death lay right at the establishment’s door.
Z Bar inhabits the rooftop of a luxury hotel in the heart of Damascus. It’s where Syria’s young elite (many with ties to the embattled regime) party the war away. Z Bar’s Facebook page has more than 12,000 fans—most of them between the ages of 18 and 24—and is filled with images of partiers carousing and dancing with the capital’s twinkling lights behind them.
A club spokesman tells Vocativ it’s the only rooftop lounge bar in the country, which might account for its popularity. “People need a getaway to unload the frustration,” he says. “Syrian people are living each day as if it’s the last.” He says the area where the club is located is safe, but the war is never far away. “[An] adrenaline rush, for sure.”
Vocativ’s interest in the club was piqued because of the sheer size of Z Bar’s online fan base. While many social media pages for Syria’s nightclubs have been dormant since the war began almost three years ago, Z Bar’s Facebook page has been, by comparison, strikingly active. Parties are promoted daily online, including Sunday movie nights (Sandra Bullock’s film The Heat was recently shown) and DJ theme nights.
DJ Bilal, one of the house DJs at Z Bar, tells Vocativ “Arabic and Oriental” music is the most popular at the club, but people also like house and trance. David Guetta and Jennifer Lopez are Western artists who get a lot of play. On a crowded night (Thursdays and Saturdays are busiest), the small space burgeons with some 200 revelers. Entrance costs about $12 (to many in Syria, a princely sum).
According to at least one report, there are actually about a dozen clubs still open in Damascus, most of them in the heavily protected city center that boasts the homes of President Bashar al-Assad and members of the Syrian ruling class who feed off the regime. DJ Bilal says there are only about six “professional DJs” in the city.
One of the club’s most active promoters is Haidara Suleiman. His father is Syria’s ambassador to Jordan and former intelligence chief under Bashar al-Assad and Assad’s father. Continuing a familial tradition of leadership, the younger Suleiman is the Foursquare “mayor” of Z Bar. He’s also “mayor” of 26 more domains, including the Fashion Café in Amman, Jordan, and the Vegas Diner in Damascus.
Clearly busy with his mayoral duties, Suleiman did not respond to Vocativ’s requests for comment.
How Do We Know
Using a combination of our proprietary technology and old-fashioned journalism, Vocativ has been able to peek into the bizarre lives of Syria's elite—many of whom seem to be oblivious to the plight of their fellow countrymen. This article utilized public information taken from Facebook and Foursquare which was analyzed by our team of Middle East specialists.
DJ Bilal, for one, does not think his job or the club lifestyle is at odds with the war-ravaged Syria a few miles away. “I work as a DJ to live, not for the sake of happiness and dancing,” he says.
He adds, “Syria is under attack from terrorism of all countries of the world, and the United States, Qatar and Saudi Arabia support the terrorists. The Syrian Arab Army and President Bashar al-Assad protect us from terrorism.”