Beirut’s city guide, Lebanon
Discover the best addresses of the Lebanese capital with Patrick Mouzawak, a local artist.
So first, how would you describe Beirut to someone that has never been?
Beirut. It’s a diamond in a puddle of shit. Beirut has a very unique heartbeat. The mix of many cultures residing in the city makes it a very interesting place to live and explore. It’s a small city in comparison yet you find in it everything from gay bars to conservative neighborhoods all within walking distance. I would say it’s quite cultural too as it was selected the book capital in recent years and it has many art galleries and alternative music scene from locals and internationals. I guess it’s pretty famous for the parties and clubs so if you’re into this stuff, it can get pretty wild. You can find a wide variety of decent music and cool venues.
How do you get around Beirut?
“Service”. It’s the concept of the shared taxi that you can find everywhere in the city. Actually “service” find you and honk and honk and honk until you give a clear answer of wether you want the ride or not. Usually nodding up to signal a “no, thanks” or nod down for a “ yes”. It’s not so expensive, usually 2 thousand liras (1.3 dollars). Walking of course is the best. Also if you’re adventurous you can bike around and that’s quite fun too.
What are your favorite neighborhoods?
I like the old Armenian district (1) and Achrafieh (2). I like it because it’s preserved in a way and has a taste of the old Beirut with old big trees squeezed between houses and the variety of fairly priced good sandwiches.
Best time of the year to go?
If you like the beach, shorts and outdoor activities then summer is your thing. Otherwise the winter has its own magic, less crowded places, 30 minutes to snowboard or ski warm cozy gatherings and wine…
FOR A COFFEE
Coffee shops are many and they serve the usual variety of coffee. I would say try the Turkish coffee from the street guys who carry thermos containers (usually located by the Cornish (3) and other populated pedestrian friendly spots).
FOR A BRUNCH
If you wake up early for brunch it means you’ve missed the Saturday party. What usually happens is you party at a club or at house then you end up eating at 5 am at Zaatar w Zeit (4), a Lebanese chain restaurant that opens 24 hours. This restaurant offers a great after party food with many delicious wraps.
FOR A LUNCH WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES
The Lebanese people are so proud of their food and honestly if you’re a food enthusiast this is your heaven. You can find so many good places to eat from any price range you desire. If you want to try Lebanese food, there’s a guy who have a couple of restaurants, called Tawlet (5) and Souk el Tayeb (6), where he hires housewives who make the most delicious food ever. So it’s a buffet and I’m telling you its SOOO GOOD! Also a cool thing to try is to convince your friend to invite you for a Sunday lunch with their family (quite common) and then you can try the awesome homemade food and enjoy the company of the generous and welcoming locals.
FOR A ROMANTIC NIGHT OUT
A bottle of wine and a construction site. During the day you will hear a lot of construction noise coming from the huge towers being built everywhere. At night they stop so choose a cool tall tower under construction and choose a floor sit and enjoy the view with some local wine. I recommend Kefraya or IXIR. PS: be discreet and clean.
FOR A DINNER WITH FRIENDS
I like to eat at DEMO bar (7), it’s my hangout place and my friend is the chef, she’s really good and the price is fair.
FOR A CRAZY COCKTAIL EVENING
Walking from Gouraud Street (8) to Mar Mikhael (9) area. It’s a looong street filled with bars and restaurants. It’s basically bar hopping so what I do is go with the best music/atmosphere and let the night take me out.
FOR CHEAP BEERS
It’s not illegal to carry bottles of beer bought from the minimarkets situated next to the bars. So on cheap days I do that. I buy a beer from the markets and stand with the crowd outside the bars.
FOR A BUSINESS MEETING
Dawawine (10). It’s kind of a public library with a restaurant and a calm atmosphere.
FOR A DRUNK DANCING NIGHT
The grand factory (11), Überhaus (12) and Trainstation (13). Basically you have to check for the kind of music, but good music lovers manage all these three and great atmosphere good cool chill people.
FOR A QUALITY CONCERT
There are concerts all the time in the city and many outside of the city. Posters are placed on the streets and inside some bars so you can check there for some quality concert.
FOR A SPORT SESSION
I’m not a regular sporty but I see people running on the Cornish. It’s a long stretched sidewalk near the sea. In the summer time it can get quite crowded so maybe doing it early say 7 am or so for a lesser chance of running into people and strayed kids.
Souk el Ahad (14) translated Sunday market. It’s a big flea market that actually opens Saturday afternoon till late on Sunday. There you can find anything you want, of course mostly cheap Chinese products but occasionally you might run into a couple of useful things. It’s fun to just walk around and see people excited to buy stuff. Also if you had anything stolen during your trip I think you’d find it there and you might get it back for the right price.
You can get your stuff at Arcenciel (15). It’s an NGO that is very active and helps a whole range of people so when you buy furniture from them you’ll be getting stuff and helping people who help people. They have donations from all kind of old unwanted stuff. Mostly furniture and sometimes plants. As for vintage clothing there are always events in different venues and art galleries that host third party sellers of vintage clothing. So you might want to check on that every now and then.
FOR A GREEN AREA
Not many parks in the city sadly. But recently the city’s municipality reopened “Horsh Beirut” (Beirut’s forest) (16). A big green space in the city’s perimeter only the annoying thing is that it’s opened to the public only on weekends. There are other small parks kind of like gardens scattered here and there.
FOR THE BEST PANORAMIC VIEW
Lebanon has a similar geographical terrain as Greece and many other Mediterranean places. The mountain is very close to the sea so you go anywhere east up a hill maybe 10 minutes by car and you have a decent panoramic view. I suggest you go to Broumana, maybe 20 min by car from the town. It’s a very beautiful place with cute cafés and a great view of the city and the whole coast.
FOR A WALK
I like to explore different routes each time. So it’s hard to choose one. But I would stay away from the busy roads and kind of ease through the inner part of town. If I had to choose a mostly traveled road I say Sursock Street (17). It’s a really beautiful street with many old mansions and a very interesting new museum.
FOR A TOURISTIC POINT
Gemmayzeh Street (18).
FOR A MUSEUM
The one that I often enjoy their selection is Beirut exhibition center (19) in Biel. Also the newly open Sursock Museum (20). Another cool spot called Art Lab (21) with links to current exhibition and locations.
FOR THE WEEK-END ESCAPADE
South to Sour (Tyre) and the old town there. North to Jounieh and Jbeil (Byblos) up to Batroun to try their famous lemonade. For the mountain peeps take a trip to the Cedars and pass by Gibran Khalil Gibran museum.
What do I need to absolutely taste or try before leaving?
You must taste everything from the Lebanese meza (similar to tapas), Arak (similar to pastes and locally produced), clubbing. Try to go outside the city into the small villages. Talk to people. The Lebanese in general are warm and friendly especially to tourists.
Products to take back home
Arak. Pomegranate sauce. Lebanese Sweets.
Yasmin Hamdan is a young singer and a previous member of Soapkills (check it out they’re cool). If you get into a service car in the morning you will definitely listen to Fairuz, a very famous singer from the 50’s and people of all ages enjoy listening to her astonishing soothing voice.
Photos by Patrick Mouzawak