city life | beirut
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
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
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,
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
M E D I T E R R A N E A N S E A Port
DOWNTOWN Martyrs Square
R ue Beirut Souks
Hel o u
Ras Beyrouth Ave
hab Ave Charles M alek
al D e
Avenue Elias Sarkis
Beirut Boul ﬁ
evard A v e n u e A . Ya
Avenue Hamid Franjiye
Ave Hamid Franjiye
EGYPT JORDAN Av
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