Beirut is a study in transformation: Postwar chaos and grit give way to high art, refined cuisine, and booming nightlife. Bullet-flecked houses flank avant-garde architectural marvels; women in head scarves walk alongside fur-clad fashion types; a mix of Arabic, English, and French can be heard at any moment. Whether you hit the heavenly beaches in summer or ski resorts in winter, the Mediterranean city has something for everyone.
For sleek, contemporary lodgings, book a room at the newly opened Le Gray, located in the downtown district. Split your time between the state-of-the-art spa, rooftop pool, and circular-shaped Bar ThreeSixty with views of the sea. Up the quaint factor (without sacrificing the cool) at Albergo, a boutique hotel nested in a historic house in Old Beirut. Each of the 33 suites showcases Ottoman or 18th-century French decor. Study the design details while nibbling on thyme croissants and local cheese.
At poetic boutique Starch (Saifi Village, Downtown; 01-566-079), owner/couturier Rabih Kayrouz selects four to six up-and-coming designers per season. Everything from evening gowns to flower-print blazers hangs on whitewashed branches. If your savings account is flush, make like the jet-set crowd and purchase a holiday flat. Smartly outfit it with colorful textiles and furniture from Bokja (Christian Louboutin is a customer).
Get your contemporary art fix at the newest cutting-edge galleries. Beirut Art Center hosts local and international artists in a variety of media (video, design, sculpture, paint); industrial-chic Sfeir-Semler is also a must. Stop in for a midafternoon espresso and brownie break at Papercup, a sweet store selling edgy international magazines (032C, Monocle) and outrageous art books.
The local food movement, where chefs are leaving behind refined European cuisine for more authentic, regionally focused Lebanese and Armenian dishes, is catching like wildfire. Case in point: the city’s first farmers market Souk el Tayeb (open Saturdays), a colorful and diverse display of organic, artisanal breads, jam, produce, and more. Grab an outstanding, casual lunch at Tawlet (which means kitchen table in Arabic), a truly special spot where a different regional home chef prepares a daily menu. For high-quality mezze and other Lebanese delicacies, head to Abdel Wahab (56 Abdel Wahab el Inglizi Street; 01-200-550). Sample several varieties of hummus, garlic-spiked yogurt, and zesty tabbouleh in the Ottoman house.
Nightlife begins at 11 p.m. and ends when the sun rises — or never. After grabbing a drink at Ingresso (Mar Mikhael; 01-565-313), head downstairs to Em Chill, a clubby venue in an old garage where you can listen to bands and DJs. At Behind the Green Door (Nahr Street, extension of Gouraud Street, Mar Mikhael; 01-565-656), a sultry, boudoir-style lounge, sexy arty types swig champagne on velvet couches. There’s no better place to cap things off than at B 018, the beating heart of the chaotic nightlife. Located in a former civil war zone, the warehouse-cum-futuristic underground bunker has a retractable roof, which reveals starry skies and a cool breeze when pulled back.
Photos: Azlan Hashim / Flickr; Courtesy of Le Gray; Courtesy of Bokja; Shirine Saad; Courtesy of Em Chill
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