Themed bars to try in Beirut
Ever wondered how it would feel to cross the Berlin Wall while slightly tipsy? Do you hanker for the age of swing jazz, sharp suits and contraband moonshine? Are you of the opinion that alcohol is best savoured in an industrial setting of concrete and strip lights? …no? Well, now that you’re here you may as well entertain the thought, for all three experiences are on offer at Beirut’s weird and wonderful themed bars. Make no mistake, these watering holes tend to wear their theme lightly, and you won’t be expected to dress accordingly; but if the wider Beirut bar scene is leaving you cold, they could be offering just the sort of offbeat fun you’re after.
Lebanese restaurants in Beirut
Lebanon’s sprawling diaspora may have introduced the delights of fattoush and kibbe to the four corners of the world, but it’s no surprise that the motherland remains the best place to sample this most varied of Levantine cuisines. Lebanese restaurants in Beirut run the gamut of expense and fashion, from the elegant mezze platters at the voguish Enab to Frida’s curious hybrid of local and Mexican cuisines. Whether you want to degust local delicacies in high style or chow down on some glorified street food, the Beirut restaurant scene has you covered. Just go easy on the arak.
Luxury hotels in Beirut
Cherry-picking the best from the vast pool of luxury hotels in Beirut was never going to be an easy task. The city may no longer be the cosmopolitan playground for the rich that it was in the ’50s, but its impressive range of plush accommodation speaks to its enduring appeal for the international jet set. All tastes are catered for: whether you’re after a rooftop pool or a vast seaside spa complex, cutting-edge art or old-school boutique charm, Beirut will oblige. Sleep well.
Italian restaurants to try in Beirut
Downtown is where Beirutis come to do their fine dining – so leave your shawarma fantasies at the door. This neighbourhood is all about multiple sets of cutlery, pristine tablecloths and obsequious table service. Cucina is a perfect examplar of this swanky culinary scene: it's as modern and stylish as any of its neighbours, though in contrast to their mostly international orientation its cuisine is strictly Italian. The menu is packed with hearty home recipes such as the gamberi con quinoa rossa (shrimp and red quinoa to you or me) and the scaloppine alla Milanese. Alongside these you’ll find the usual variety of pastas, risottos, salads and pizzas. Oh, and do let the classy setting fool you: Cucina's prices match the service.
Olio has a number of branches across the city, all of which serve quality Italian food with a focus on pizza. The chain has proliferated with dizzying speed in the last few years, filling the gap for reliable, fairly priced Italian fare in Beirut's foodie scene. The experience is more or less standardised across the different venues: attractive decor, moody lighting, succulent dishes, a wood-burning stove, a ring of authenticity. Where the Hamra branch edges the others is in the warmth of the service: the genial waiters will be quick to help you navigate the menu of salads, bruschetta and thin-crust pizzas. We recommend anything with seafood, which it does especially well – perhaps unsurprising, once you realise that each Olio shares floor space with a branch of Soto Sushi.
It should come as no surprise that style and fashion are on the menu at Cavalli Caffè. This is not just a café that serves up ambitious Italian dishes, but also a boutique shop which sells a wide variety of imported delicacies. So the next time you're at home and you realise that was your last bottle of Grappa, you’ll know where to go. But better to visit and stay to soak up the fashionable atmosphere.Cavalli Caffé is an assault of trendy modern design. From the striking zebra print chairs to the plush golden bar it is dizzyingly chic and aggressively fashionable. The kitchen (unseen but presumably also trendy) serves up a variety of Italian dishes that are painstakingly prepared and presented. Thankfully they taste as good as they look. The calamari is fresh and crunchy to bite and the beef carpaccio is on another level of refined.
Ristorante La Traviata
Get into the groove of la dolce vita at Ristorante La Traviata, one of the more atmospheric of Beirut's numerous faux-rustic trattoria. The tiny restaurant does a good job of simulating a dinner scene from the old country, what with the pile of outsized veg in the corner and the lilting Godfatheresque music issuing from the sound system. Refreshingly for an Italian eaterie in Beirut, pizza doesn't dominate the menu, and the kitchen does an impressive line in tagliatelle and grilled meats. Understated Italian elegance comes out in the details, from the excellent service to the first-rate presentation on the plate. Outside seating is available – although you might be put off by the passing traffic on Pasteur Street, Gemmayzeh’s very own cardo maximus.
Where to drink cocktails in Beirut
This cosy, dimly lit bar in the backstreets of Gemmayzeh draws a mixed clientele of young and old. During the weekdays it’s a great place to hangout for a mid-week cocktail, without the threat of pumping music to derange your tipsy confabulations. That said, the owners have a working knowledge of eclectic hip hop and dance music, and the carefully curated background music swells on Fridays and Saturdays into a full-on party playlist, with some scope for dancing in the space at the back. At the weekend Demo reels in more punters than it can handle, and the crowd of revellers routinely overflows outside, carrying the party out onto Lebanon Street. It's a fun, unpretentious place, perfect for a casual night out.
This recent addition to Armenia Street's ever-evolving nightlife scene is an ideal drop-in spot for those looking to get tipsy but not too boozy. The stripped-down wood-panelled interior decor is reflected in Rustique's artfully minimalist approach to cocktail-making, while local scenesters come to roost on the row of streetside bar stools outside. Something of a victim of its own success, the venue swiftly reaches capacity on weekends; sip one of their mixologists' concoctions and you'll understand why. Happy Hour is happens every day from 6pm to 9pm.
A relatively new addition to the ever-fluctuating Mar Mikhael bar scene, The Bohemian doesn't quite follow up on the implications of its name: it’s a magnet for classy cosmopolitan types thirsting for a cocktail and some lounge music, and who are willing to book ahead for the privilege (essential on weekends). The menu is so extensive that the best course of action is to name your spirit and let the mixologists do the rest – a particularly appealing game during happy hour. Or you can take our word for it and order the sublime Gin Basil. The usual booze-inspired range of salads, burgers and appetisers are available, but the food plays second fiddle to the drinks, and we suggest you line your stomach beforehand. During the winter, the bar is kept nice and toasty by a heater of industrial proportions; but it comes into its own in the summer, when the façade opens out and lets in a cool breeze to match the chilled vibes.
One of the newer cocktail bars to hit Mar Mikhael, Perk is a classy joint with an open front, making it a great place to sip a refreshing concoction on a hot summer evening. They have an interesting and ever-expanding selection of cocktails, which clock in at a reasonable LL17,000 – not the cheapest watering hole in Beirut, but not the most expensive either. As popular as its dimensions are cosy, the bar tends to fill up quickly with the Instagram-toting clientele, though the overpopulation problem is to some extent alleviated by the outdoor seating. Snacks are available, and the music is loud (though don't expect to find space to dance).
Sleep in style in Beirut
Cross the threshold of the Phoenicia and walk into the world of ‘60s Lebanese luxe, when luxury ruled and the country was starting to be described as the Switzerland of the Middle East. Fast forward a few decades, and while Lebanon may not have delivered on its promise of opulence, the InterContinental Phoenicia still reigns supreme. Chandeliers shimmer, fountains pour, marble gleams and staff attend to your every need at Beirut’s 'Grande Dame', situated in one the city’s most desirable areas looking right over Zaitunay Bay. With rooms fit for the jet set and an internationally recognised art collection, you’re sure to be amazed at Phoenicia’s majesty.
Situated slap-bang in the most happening part of Downtown, right by Samir Kassir Square, Le Gray is the hotel of choice for those after contemporary cool and minimalist chic. Rooms are spruced up with the latest technology and a strikingly modern design, supplemented by cutting-edge art from the Ayyam Gallery. The suites are only a part of it: Le Gray also graces its guests with impeccable service and a sensual spa, not to mention panoramic views of the Mediterranean, the city and Mount Lebanon from its numerous outdoor gardens. Make sure to check out its terrace lounges, including local favourite Cherry on the Rooftop and the appropriately named Bar Three Sixty.
Beirut’s not a city that lends itself easily to calm, but that’s exactly what the Zen-like O Monot, in the city's Saifi district, has to offer. Contemporary in character but designed with soul, the hotel is a sanctuary of serenity and style on the distinctly French Monot Street. Rooms are equipped with the latest technology, and the gourmet restaurant offers exceptional dining and stunning views of the city. But the vistas don’t end there: O Monot would be harder to recommend without its rooftop pool and bar, a tranquil eyrie from which you can absorb the sights and sounds of the city.
Villa Clara Hotel
Secreted away on a quiet side-street in Mar Mikhael, Villa Clara is the definition of refined, intimate luxury. Romanticism is the order of the day in this boutique hotel of just seven rooms, sculpted with Oriental flourishes and dutifully furnished with the likes of Andrée Putman furniture. Contemporary art and antique classics (think ’50s Murano chandeliers meet local Lebanese graffiti) decorate the rooms of this distinctively blue 1920s villa. It’s a renaissance: Villa Clara brings back the Belle Époque to a city welcoming it with open arms. The eponymous restaurant is worth a visit in its own right, featuring high-end French fare prepared by joint owner Olivier Gougeon.