Its rocky past hasn’t entirely been forgotten – mind you, remnants of the ravaging civil war can still be found across the city – yet Beirut bounced back, and to such a spectacular extent, it was named as the number one destination to visit by The New York Times in 2009. Although political circumstances have become increasingly volatile both in Lebanon and the region, the resilience of Beirutis knows no stopping, and the city lifestyle infrastructure continues expand with buzzing new establishments. The most striking opening of late undoubtedly is Aïshti Foundation, an A-grade multi-storey art gallery of the eponymous luxury retailer. Dominating Beirut’s downtown area with a multitude of branded high-end boutiques, the new venue houses the extensive modern art collection of its audacious owner. The building, situated in a northern suburb along the Mediterranean, was designed by star architect David Adjaye, and is an extension of a swanky mall, replete with shop-in-shops by Prada, Fendi, Proenza Schouler and a handful of others from fashion’s highest stratosphere. Another hotly anticipated venue is Sursock Museum, a venue closely associated with the emergence of Lebanon’s contemporary art scene. Housed in the ornate former residence of its founder and philanthopist Nicolas Sursock, it reopened after years of extensive renovation and the venue has once again become a popular destination, and not only for the city’s well-heeled art aficionados, but also discerning gourmets. Situated on the premises is a restaurant with a glorious outdoor terrace, run by savvy hospitality entrepreneur Joanna Debbas.
And speaking of food, Beirut is blessed with a slew of other noteworthy eateries. Two restaurants that have been wowing gourmets, although each aiming at a slightly different demographic, are Liza and Tawlet. The first is a branch of Paris-based Lebanese restaurateur Liza Soughayar. Housed on the first floor of an imposing mansion in the upscale Achrafieh neighbourhood, the setting is whimsically stylish, fusing the building’s historic elements with modern tweaks. Foodwise, it’s all about the richness of local flavours and recipes, and doing it well, this place is packed almost very night of the week. On a similar level, albeit with an organic focus, is Tawlet. Kamal Mouzawak, founder of the establishment, previously launched the country’s first organic market, and the restaurant became a logical next step. Tucked away in an alley in the Mar Mikhael district, it features a buffet of freshly made local dishes from around the country, and obviously using of organic produce. For a truly modern dining experience, and we mean that literally, there’s Stereo Kitchen. Perched atop a 1970s building, this dining spot is the epitome of concrete chic, boasting a circular, glass-encased setting with sweeping views of the city and its port. The fine dining menu lists traditional mezzes with plenty of side dishes to sumptuous seafood concoctions.
Bar culture is flourishing too, with an abundance of watering holes in Hamra, Central Beirut, Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael, the city’s most popular entertainment districts. Situated on the top floor of swanky boutique hotel Le Gray sits Bar ThreeSixty. A popular meeting place of expats and well-heeled locals alike, this is swish cocktail heaven, and you’ll have to dress up to blend in. Only a stone’s throw away, Centrale is beckoning. Also atop a mid-rise building, the setting here is industrial. In fact, the bar is situated inside a metal cylinder and has a slight futuristic feel. Myu is another modernist gem of a bar, occupying the ground floor of two adjacent buildings, and featuring an understated interior that seems inserted into an outdated shell. Finding the right lodgings is easy as options are galore in all categories. A number of international hospitality chains have properties in the city, but if you seek premises with personality, keep the following pointers in mind. The aforementioned Le Gray boasts five-star modern premises in the heart of town, but if you prefer a more classic old world style, Hotel Albergo might be more suitable. Those in search of more intimate and personal premises will love boutique hotel Villa Clara or guesthouse BEYt with its cool 1950s vintage interior. Traveling to Beirut is convenient as its airport has daily air connections with global hubs such as London, Rome, Istanbul, Dubai and Paris.