Monday, November 09, 2009

Beirut gets in the mood to party

The Sunday Times
November 8, 2009

Beirut gets in the mood to party
Johnny Paris samples the lively nightlife in the compact but culturally and religiously diverse Lebanese capital

Life in Lebanon’s compact but culturally and religiously diverse capital has always been exciting, sometimes perilously so. Now, three years since the last Israeli offensive, even our Foreign Office thinks it is safe to visit. And Beirut’s nightlife has never been livelier. In summer it sizzles and year-round there is no shortage of places to see and be seen. Some of the venues have a habit of changing their location, so keep your ear to the ground.

Monot Street in the Ashrafieh district set itself up as party central some years back and bars such as 37° and Hole in the Wall have maintained that reputation, serving iced shots and hot sounds from early evening (by which I mean around 9pm). The nearby Ice Bar has live music several nights a week.

Monot’s star has been eclipsed recently by the development of Gemmayzeh, a predominantly Christian area where the action began a few years back at Torino Express, a small place along Gouraud Street, which still has some of the best DJs in town.

Now the cutting edge places are beginning to move to an area called Mar Mikhael. One of the torch-bearers is a small, perfectly formed and very happening bar, Behind the Green Door, designed more like a boudoir and serving piscines (champagne and ice), a drink that only a Beiruti would fully understand.

You could happily spend a whole night in these areas, spending from £3 for a beer, £9 for a cocktail. But come the witching hour, Beirut’s serious party people and their friends and relations, many of them from Dubai and the Gulf, prefer to move on. If it’s summer, there is only one place to be. Sky Bar is regularly voted the world’s best bar/club and for good reason. Perched on a rooftop overlooking the Mediterranean, this is where the rich meet the beautiful in an irresistible glam-dance love-in that can cost the average table hundreds of pounds. If you can’t slip past the Sky Bar bouncers (and you’ll need a reservation to do so), head for White, another rooftop summer club full of beautiful people, overlooking Martyrs’ Square.

White and Sky Bar close for the winter, when the party moves indoors to places such as Palais on Monot Street. Occasionally it even goes underground, as at the Basement and BO18, the serious player’s favourite after-club club, dark, loud and strangely compelling.

Beirut is a city given over to visible excess and cheap is not a word currently in use. Some clubs have a minimum £20-£30 a head charge and the Basement takes £15 a head at the door including a couple of drinks (no, not champagne); some let women in free. But expect to pay at least £60 a head for a night on the town, up to £100 if you want food with your drinks.

Following the free-spending party people, British hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray has launched his latest venture in the city’s central Martyrs’ Square. Le Gray is Beirut’s first luxury hotel opening in many years and one of its most idiosyncratic (; doubles from £210 per night including tax). Le Gray is chic and super-sexy, an elegant six-storey building where restrained lines and materials (plenty of white walls and walnut woodwork) are mixed with exuberant art and flamboyant furnishings. Gold taps and acres of marble, those bywords of Arab luxe, have been ditched: luxury here is in the quality of service and produce, in the materials and size of the 87 spacious rooms. There is a top-floor see-through infinity pool, so you can see shoppers at the new downtown boutiques, while being seen by friends at the bar.

Food has always been a reason to head for Beirut, and never more so than now. At Tawlet II (00 961 1448 129), a whitewashed industrial space due to open this month, Sunni, Shi’ite and Christian food producers will take turns to produce dining from 9am to 6pm and a buffet lunch expected to cost about £12 a head. A multicultural triumph.

1 comment:

Francis said...

Me and some friends would like to run the Beirut marathon this year. It's the 6th of december. Is it warm that time of the year? Our wifes will run the 10km, but they enjoy warm temperature at most. So they can chill in the sun.
Kind rgards Francis -Belgium

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