Jad Ballout and Jade Ismail

Exclusive: Jad Ballout and Jade Ismail on the opening of Dead End Paradise Barcelona

06 April, 2023

Ever since first leading Central Station to the title of Best Bar in the Middle East & Africa at the World’s 50 Best Bars 2016, Jad Ballout has been Lebanon’s top boy putting the city’s cocktail scene on the international stage. 

Now for the first time, he’s opening a bar outside of his hometown of Beirut with Dead End Paradise Barcelona. Drinks International caught up with the man and beverage director Jade Ismail to get up to speed.

“To say that this project has been an easy or fun ride would be misleading,” says Ballout. “It was long and tough. Setting foot in a new country where you barely have any contacts or knowledge is a difficult thing to do. Stepping outside of Beirut, Lebanon has always been a dream. After the disaster that struck home in 2020, this dream felt like it needed to become reality much sooner than expected.”

After Central Station, Ballout opened Electric Bing Sutt. It was an instant hit, placing on the 2019 50 Best Bars list but it was tragically short-lived, Electric Bing Sutt was damaged beyond repair in the 2020 Beirut explosion.

The bar world was quick to rally around Ballout and his team, and a fundraiser was quickly set up by Dinos Constantinides of Lost & Found in Cyprus and Nico de Soto of Danico in Paris, fetching over €35,000.

Out of the rubble of Electric Bing Sutt came a new venue concept, Dead End Paradise, a hedonistic tiki dive bar just 500 metres from the site of the explosion that “may not exist tomorrow”. That bar continues in full swing today, but not long after opening, Ballout was setting his sights on pastures new.

“In 2021, Paradiso invited us for a guest shift,” says Ballout. “And on a random night, I had the epiphany that Barcelona was the next stepping stone. At this moment, everyone thought I was mad but once the idea was set, it was time to work on it.

“In March 2022, we found the location of an old Rock n’ Roll bar in the heart of Raval that made total sense for our vision, the lease was signed and this was the beginning of Dead End Paradise Barcelona.”

Despite the experience of those involved, what followed was far from smooth sailing.

“Every possible issue that could have happened, did,” explains Ismail.” The possibility of Jad not obtaining his visa, the struggle of opening a company bank account without residency, the shipment delay of our custom pieces, and a lot of other things that put extra stress on the team. Because of the visa issue, Jad had to remain in Lebanon and quite literally open the bar remotely through endless WhatsApp video calls.”

Thankfully, Ismail had joined the project by this point and was in place to manage things on-site with Ballout overseeing remotely.

The pair have reunited having first worked together at Central Station. When Ballout opened Electric Bing Sutt, Ismail followed, leading the team there as bar manager, but after the tragedy left her native Lebanon for Switzerland to work alongside Michelin-starred chef Zineb Hattab and opened the Moroccan-inspired DAR cocktail bar.

When Ballout came calling, Ismail took the opportunity to reunite and joined the company as beverage director, overseeing the launch of the Barcelona venue on the ground.

“It was definitely an unconventional way to start a business,” says Ballout. “The bar was expected to take four months to open but eventually ended up taking just less than a year. But we are very thankful to the community who supported us and provided a helping hand when needed. Now, a year later, Dead End Paradise Barcelona is finally open. The dream is now a reality. The only thing left is to make this reality as big as the dream.”

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