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					      city life | beirut




      Beirut




      return toépoque
           la belle


                                                     Images: Ingrid Rasmussen




136   National Geographic traveller | Mar/Apr 2011
                                                                                                                                     beirut | city life




A vibrant, modern city immersed in a difficult yet
illustrious history, Beirut is more than ready to look to the
future — with a nod to the past. Words by Don Duncan




B
              eirut is a city           worth remembering its old face,           downtown, is a one-stop shop for        silver and some unusual materials
                being pulled in two     and seeking it out: the vintage shop      luxury goods, clothing, jewellery       like compounded coffee. He uses
                directions. Back        fronts, the stylish old ladies, the       and high-end cafes. It is also an       rough, unpolished metals and
                to the nostalgia        wonderful old-world eateries that         interesting statement about the         asymmetrical lines with prices
                and fondness of         haven’t changed in decades. This          new Lebanon and the balance it is       ranging from $60 (£38) right up to
Lebanon’s Arabic traditions, be         forgotten world of fine Lebanese          trying to strike between renovation     $3,000 (£1,875).
it music, food or architecture.         living exists in the nooks and            and commemoration in its post-war          Finally, a recent edition to
And forward to the continual            crannies between the shining              reconstruction. Beirut Souks stands     Gemmayzeh’s retail spread, Ginette
experiment that is reconstructed        new surfaces and towers of an             on the site where there was once        is a store at the cutting edge of
Lebanon — at peace, prospering and      emboldened, reawakening Beirut.           a vibrant market before the war.        where retail is going in Beirut.
making it up as it goes along.                                                    This sold all necessary goods and       A minimalist, high-end concept
   The Lebanese civil war, which        SightS & Shopping                         was magnet to all Beirutis, drawing     store in the vein of Colette in Paris,
raged in fits and lulls from 1975       The best way to make sure you             them into the centre of town            Ginette offers beautiful design
to 1990, was a defining period in       get your sightseeing and shopping         from surrounding areas. The new         objects — Leica cameras, Tombow
the short modern history of this        done is to do both at the same            shopping complex, which is very         pens, Illy coffee machines and
religiously diverse state. With the     time. One of the more novel, and          tastefully designed, is a nod to that   collectible trainers — sparsely
war vanished a belle époque of fine     comprehensive, ways to see the            heritage but is far more upscale, and   distributed amid the store’s sleek
living and religious coexistence – a    sights is to take the Walk Beirut tour.   exclusive, than previous markets.       surfaces and sharp lines. The
golden period the country has been      Set up by Ronnie Chatah as a way             If you want shopping with a bit      restaurant also serves tasty salads
trying to recapture ever since.         of offering history with tourism,         more local colour, Gemmayzeh, an        and locally produced desserts.
   Beirut, the capital, has been        he guides small groups of people          area in east Beirut, is a good spot.
physically defined by war. Signs of     on foot all over the city, explaining     Gouraud Street is lined with cafes      eatS
the war are visible everywhere, from    the significance of various places:       and bars, but among them are some       As the sun sets, Beirutis’ minds
shelled buildings that still stand      the bombed-out former Holiday             real shopping gems. Michel Sfeir        turn to dinner and dancing.
to the bullet pockmarked edifices       Inn that still stands, the vintage        runs a treasure trove of an antiques    Lebanon is famous for its food
of houses. But side-by-side with        cinemas of Hamra, the sparkling           shop. He buys from people selling       and hospitality, and both come
these accidental memorials of the       new downtown area that has                their houses or who have inherited      together in the wide range of
country’s past decline and violence     been reconstructed and Martyrs’           old properties whose contents they      restaurants dotted across the
are testaments to its rising from the   Square, where so much popular             don’t want; in his store you can find   capital. Like Lebanon itself, Beirut’s
ashes. Brand new buildings, towers      protest happens.                          some exquisite furniture, lighting,     restaurant offering has one foot
of glass and entire areas that were        Along the way you’ll also pass         trinkets, musical instruments and       firmly planted in the Arab world
once piles of rubble are now sleekly    some great shopping spots which,          crystal from French Colonial times      and the other testing the waters of
redesigned in an expression of          once again, represent the old and         and the Ottoman era. Down the           numerous world cuisines. There are
what the new Lebanon is: resilient,     new faces of Lebanon. Beirut Souks,       street is Gem, where jewellery          trends — sushi is all the rage these
forward-looking and stylish.            a sprawling, brand new shopping           designer Antoine Oueiss sells           days — but one old reliable that
   The new face of the country may      complex that’s been built as a key        a range of his rings, bracelets,        never changes is Lebanese mezze, or
immediately catch the eye, but it’s     element in the rejuvenation of            necklaces and cufflinks in gold,        traditional entrées. >>


                                                                                                                    Mar/Apr 2011 | National Geographic traveller   137
      city life | beirut




                                                                                                                                    Previous page from top: Cityscape of
                                                                                                                                    East Beirut from the rooftop at Le Gray
                                                                                                                                    Hotel; old apartment building, Gouraud
                                                                                                                                    Street, Gemmayzeh
                                                                                                                                    This page: Patrons at Dany’s, Hamra
                                                                                                                                    Opposite, clockwise from top-left:
                                                                                                                                    Le Gray rooftop glass infinity pool
                                                                                                                                    overlooking Beirut; mezze selection;
                                                                                                                                    classic car in Gemmayzeh, Gouraud
                                                                                                                                    Street; locals outside bar, Gouraud Street,
                                                                                                                                    Gemmayzeh



          It is at Baromètre that you can        gastronomic new guard: a self-          in the city that night is also easy to     cafe overlooking Beirut. Suites are
      find perhaps the best mezze in             consciously international take          come by.                                   $310 (£194) a night and executive
      Beirut at a reasonable price. The          on Lebanese food. Located in a              Once the bars begin to shut            suites cost $520 (£325) a night.
      traditional eatery is in the Hamra         converted Arabic house, famous          around 2am it’s time to hit the               The small Hotel Moonlight
      district, a stone’s throw from the         Mexican artist Frida Khalo is its       clubs, and a visit to Beirut wouldn’t      in Hamra is more an exercise in
      American University of Beirut,             central theme, with reproductions       be complete without a trip to B018.        preservation than nostalgia. Almost
      and its dark, atmospheric bar and          of elements of her work dotted          The former bunker, converted into          nothing in the hotel has been
      dining area have been the home             around the walls. Meals typically       a nightclub by Lebanese architect          changed since the 1950s, which
      to students and revolutionaries            cost $25-35 (£16-22) each with wine.    Bernard Khoury, is an icon in the          makes for an incredible sense
      for decades. During the Lebanese           Try the makanek (Lebanese sausage)      city, not least for its retractable roof   of time travel. The lobby is like
      civil war, it was the meeting point        in jalapeños for a good example.        which enables clubbers to dance            something from a film noir and the
      of leftist intellectuals. The late         The restaurant also houses an           under the stars. The tomb-like club        elevators, fixtures and fittings are
      leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat,          impressive tequila bar with a range     is infused with a morbid flavour,          very romantic. This is definitely the
      conducted meetings there when the          of Mexican tipples you won’t find       with coffins used for seating. If          budget option, but for $30 (£19) a
      organisation was headquartered             elsewhere in Beirut.                    you still have energy after the club,      night for a single and $40 (£25) for
      here in Beirut.                                                                    make your way to the Corniche, or          a double, you get what you pay for.
          You can still find Beirut’s leftists   nightlife                               seaside promenade, to see the sun          The rooms themselves have a motel
      at Baromètre, along with a gamut           For dancing and nightlife, Beirut is    rise over the Mediterranean and            shabbiness to them and are a little
      of others, all after a good mezze and      best taken in a staggered approach.     enjoy a coffee or water pipe with          on the depressing side.
      Al Mazaa beer, Lebanon’s local brew.       The night can be as long as you         the locals.                                   If you are looking to stay
      The best way to enjoy mezze is with        want it to be, so it’s best to pace                                                somewhere less traditional, try
      a bunch of people. Like Spanish            yourself. After dinner, head to         StayS                                      Le Gray, one of Beirut’s newest
      tapas, you order a table of plates         Dany’s in Hamra, the closest thing      When it comes to finally hitting the       modern, luxury hotels, located in
      and Arabic bread to share. Among           Beirut has to a rock’n’roll dive bar.   hay, there’s a dearth of choice when       the renovated downtown area. The
      other delights, mezze includes             Couched off of Hamra Street in an       it comes to hotels. Again, like most       hotel is a sleek, high-design affair
      hummous, mouttabal (aubergine              alley with a handful of other fine      other things in Beirut, there are two      with much Lebanese contemporary               Images: Ingrid Rasmussen; Caillaut/Corbis; Bryan Denton/Corbis; Le-Gray
      dip), soujuk (spicy Armenian sausage       bars and restaurants, Dany’s has        main categories: the traditional and       and avant garde art scattered
      in sweet pomegranate sauce),               become an institution for Beirut’s      nostalgic and the internationalised        throughout its lobbies, cafes and
      parsley-fried potatoes and salads          night owls and music lovers. In the     and aspirational. The Albergo in           bars. Rooms start from $440 (£275)
      like tabbouleh and fattoush — all for      basement is a live music venue          the Achrafieh district is a restored       a night in low season and $550
      about $3 (£1.90) a plate.                  where many of Lebanon’s bands           Arabic family home which has been          (£344) in high season. The hotel
          Baromètre represents the old,          play but most of the action happens     converted into a five-star ‘heritage’      has five bar/restaurant spaces,
      traditional and unchanged Beirut.          on the ground floor, with walls         hotel, drawing on all the comforts         including a cigar bar and beautiful
      It’s cosy, vibrant and after midnight      covered with graffiti and half-         and crafts in the Middle East to           roof bar, next to a 55ft infinity pool
      on the weekends, the tables are            baked philosophies scrawled in          create its unique Old World interior.      overlooking the Mediterranean.
      cleared and it becomes one of the          various colours. It’s a great meeting   Prepare yourself for four-poster              Sitting back on the wicker
      best Arabic dance spots in the city.       point and an ideal place to get the     beds, extravagant Arabic glass             furniture cradling a drink here may
          Frida, a Lebanese-Mexican              night started. House parties are        chandeliers, thick Persian shag            indeed be the ideal way to relax
      fusion restaurant in the Achrafieh         announced here at Dany’s, where         carpets and the pièce de résistance        and unwind after a day spent criss-
      district, is an example of Lebanon’s       information on what’s happening         — a wonderful, verdant rooftop             crossing Beirut. >>


138   National Geographic traveller | Mar/Apr 2011
                 beirut | city life




Mar/Apr 2011 | National Geographic traveller   139
      city life | beirut




      essentials
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      GeTTinG There                                                 need TO KnOW                                                                                          >> Aïzone, Beirut Souks, Downtown.                                        >> B018, Karantina (open midnight to dawn).
      >> BMI (www.flybmi.com) and Middle East                       >> Time difference: GMT +2.                                                                           T: 00 961 198 9040.                                                       www.b018.com
      Airways (www.mea.com.lb) fly daily, directly                  >> Visas: UK visitors with a valid passport                                                           >> Sfeir Antiquités et Brocante, Gouraud
      from Heathrow to Beirut International                         can obtain a one-month visa for free on                                                               street, Gemmayzeh. T: 00 961 144 3777.                                    hOW TO dO iT?
      Airport, 10 miles from downtown Beirut.                       arrival at Beirut International Airport                                                               >> Gem, Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh.                                        >> Ebookers.com offers a flights (with BMI)
      >> Indirect flights are available through most                >> Currency: Lebanon operates a dual-                                                                 T: 00 961 370 7108.                                                       and hotel (Intercontinental) package to
      major European cities.                                        currency system and both Lebanese Lira and                                                            >> Ginette, Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh.                                    Beirut from Heathrow for seven nights from
                                                                    US dollars are accepted everywhere. The                                                               www.ginette-beirut.com                                                    £930 per person.
      GeTTinG ArOund                                                Lebanese Lira is pegged at a rate of 1,500
      Getting from A to B in Beirut usually means                   Lira to the dollar. (£1: $1.60 or £1: 2,405 LBP).                                                     siGhTs                                                                    MOre infO
      hailing a shared taxi. Ask for ‘service’                      >> Vaccinations: The Foreign Office                                                                   >> Walk Beirut. www.bebeirut.org                                          >> Lebanese Ministry of Tourism.
      (pronounced ‘serveece’); the shared taxi                      recommends vaccinations for hepatitis A,                                                                                                                                        www.lebanon-tourism.gov.lb
      ride should cost 2,000LL (85p) per person.                    typhoid, tetanus-diphtheria and measles,                                                              sleeP                                                                     >> Downtown Beiruit, an online guide to the
      When travelling to other Lebanese cities, get                 mumps and rubella (MMR) at least four to                                                              >> Albergo Hotel. www.albergobeirut.com                                   city. www.downtownbeirut.com/lb
      on a bus at either Cola or Charles Helou bus                  eight weeks before departure.                                                                         >> Le Gray Hotel.                                                         >> Nakhal Tours: Lebanese company offering
      stations. Car hire prices start at £20 a vehicle              >> International dial code: 00 961.                                                                   www.campbellgrayhotels.com                                                tours of Beirut and the country.
      per day.                                                                                                                                                            >> Hotel Moonlight, Hamra.                                                www.nakhal.com.lb
                                                                    eATs                                                                                                  T: 00 961 135 2308.                                                       >> An excellent primer on the modern history
      When TO GO                                                    >> Baromètre, Hamra. T: 00 961 136 7229.                                                              >> Four Seasons.                                                          of Lebanon and the geopolitics of the region
      Beirut is at its most vibrant, and its most                   >> Frida, Achrafieh. T: 00 961 708 01841.                                                             www.fourseasons.com/beirut                                                is the book Beware of Small States by David
      hot and humid, in the July to September                       >> Mayrig, Gemmayzeh.                                                                                                                                                           Hirst (published: 2010).
      period. Temperatures can reach 40C and                        www.mayrigbeirut.com                                                                                  niGhTlife                                                                 >> Watch the feature-length West Beirut
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Illustration: John Plumer




      the humidity can climb to 100% at times.                      >> Barbar, Hamra. T: 00 961 134 8814.                                                                 >> Dany’s, Hamra. T: 00 961 390 4547.                                     (1998) by Ziad Doueiri to get a sense of Beirut
      Throughout the rest of the year, however,                                                                                                                           >> Ferdinand, Hamra. T: 00 961 135 5955.                                  during its civil war. □
      the weather is very pleasant, with heavy                      shOPPinG                                                                                              >> Demo, Gemmeyzeh. T: 00 961 395 8504.
      rains occurring in the months of December                     >> The Wine Library, Beirut Souks,                                                                    >> Behind the Green Door, Mar Mikhael.
      and January.                                                  Downtown. T: 00 961 199 3109.                                                                         T: 00 961 7085 6866.


140   National Geographic traveller | Mar/Apr 2011

				
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