Pleasure / June 2019

The Rake's Guide to Beirut

One of the oldest cities in the world with an agonizing past, Beirut is chaotic, dilapidated and has an undeniable beauty, which transcends into a brimming culture, as Chris Cotonou discovers.

Beirut has had a wobbly past, and that's putting it lightly, but having spent the last 20 years reinventing itself as the Arab world’s cultural beacon, it once more deserves its title as the ‘Paris of the East.’ At its peak - in the 1950s and 60s - Beirut drew in a who’s-who of the European and American jet-set, keen to indulge in the mysteries and delights of the region - which offered just as many souks as it did Saturday night parties.

By the looks of things, those days are back. On a recent visit, I was surprised to discover how optimistic and vivacious Beirut is. It is a delirious, safe, and friendly metropolis; where one can smell fresh jasmine growing in the hills of Geitawi; shop and enjoy cocktails on the bustling Armenia Street; and eat, eat, eat until your stomach is clogged with octopus or labneh (the regional version of yoghurt). People speak a mix of French, Arabic, and English (‘Ah, merci… Yalla, bye’) and are genuinely pleased to see visitors in their town. Beirut won’t only surprise you, it will get under your skin.

To help get you started, The Rake has compiled a helpful guide to the ‘Paris of the East’, using the best locally picked spots, and some of our own personal favourites.

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Chris Cotonou