Written by William Dobson
Recently, Sugar Street Review teamed up with BarChick, a site with nothing but the best bars from London to New York and everywhere in between, to produce a bar guide to Beirut. The city is surely the number one place in the region for partying, and you can read our suggestions here. But, don’t forget, for the best bars in London (and anywhere else) then check out BarChick!
Sky Bar - Minet Al Hosn, Beirut, Lebanon
Perched above the Mediterranean, strobe lights illuminating the sea below, Sky Bar is Beirut’s original and best rooftop bar. It’s slick, it’s chic, it’s a bit pretentious and the clientèle are uber trendy. Ferraris and Porches line the street below, everyone is young, happy and good looking, with far too much gel in their hair and starch in their collars. It may occasionally get a bit of bad press, but look further, and you’ll realise it’s just from people who have been turned away at the door. Only open in the summer months, this really should be the first port of call for anyone looking to paint Beirut red.
So get dressed up to the nines, polish your dancing shoes and take a detour via the ATM (entry is free but drinks aren’t cheap). If you really want to go all out and have some cash to drop, then get a table in the VIP area (or just wander in, as we did). Otherwise, grab yourself a beer or cocktail from the bar and revel in a bit of Lebanese decadence.
ThreeSixty - Le Gray Hotel, Martyr’s Square, Central Beirut District
At the top of Le Gray, the city’s one truly five star hotel, ThreeSixty is surely one of the coolest bars in town for those more quiet and relaxed style drinks. As the name suggests, it offers full 360 degree views over Downtown, the Mediterranean and the mountains in the distance.
At night, with all the city lights glittering and the mosque glowing below, enjoy the ambient music and modern classic design, there can’t be many more civilised places in these parts. Their wine list is mega, and includes 23 different wines from Lebanon itself, but the cocktails are equally awesome.
With a blue lacquered grand piano and colour-lit tables, which elsewhere might seem slightly garish, in Beirut work perfectly as is, plus they do claim to be ‘sexy and sophisticated.’
This is somewhere either to come for a little time out, a bit of romance, or a couple of pre-match drinks before heading for a more razzy night out elsewhere. Although the opening hours are loaded with that tantalising phrase ’2.00am…or later’.
Cigar Lounge - Le Gray Hotel, Martyr’s Square, Central Beirut District
Directly below ThreeSixty, Cigar Lounge is more old school in vibe, full of leather bound books, comfy armchairs, black and white photographs and a rooftop terrace. It’s laid back, comfy, full of a combination of Lebanese charm and English styles. The kind of place Churchill might enjoy if he were to visit Beirut in this era, with a vast range of whiskeys, cognacs, Armagnac and other drinks which go hand in hand with a cigar, a tie and a pot belly. And talking of cigars, these guys have a selection of about 20 of Cuba’s finest, nowhere else in town can rival.
If you’re looking for a quiet drink, pre- or postprandial, and a fat cigar, enjoyed sitting outside six floors above street level, with magnificent views over historic Martyrs’ Square and beyond, well, Cigar Lounge is pretty perfect.
Taiga Sky - San Stephano Hotel, Batroun Sea Road, Batroun
About an hour north of Beirut, in Batroun, a stunningly picturesque fishing village, this bar is so incongruous with the setting that it almost beggars belief. It’s like turning up to a quaint Tuscan seaside town and finding out it’s also home to a slick super club, on a rooftop perched above the sea. Not only that, but Lebanon’s mercurial electricity supply comes into play every hour or so, plunging the night into darkness and momentarily shutting down the music, everyone suddenly realising they’re still shouting or singing along to the cheesy dance tunes. Yet, even here, appearances are everything; guys sporting the standard slicked back hair and impossibly well groomed facial offerings, girls confirming the impression that the Lebanese are among the most beautiful races on earth.
Batroun itself is well worth a visit, also home to Maguy’s, surely the best restaurant in the world to be located in an illegal squat, wonderful vineyards and, of course, Taiga Sky.
February 30th - Alleyway, Hamra, Beirut
Newly opened this year, February 30 is a great addition to the Hamra bar scene. This vibey area, home to an eclectic mix of students, tourists and international journalists, is buzzing on most nights of the week. February 30 has the tagline that ‘nothing is as it seems’ and they’re not far wrong. Stepping into the bar, you are greeted by a weird and wonderful collection of kitsch décor (all the furniture is different, most is crooked and some is on the ceiling), classic tunes (I may have been spotted at one point a top a table playing air guitar to Brian Adam’s Summer of ’69), and bizarrely eccentric people. Throughout the evening we meet one man who claims to concurrently run the country’s biggest bank while also supplying ninjas to those who might be in need, a woman fresh from augmentation surgery keen to let all and sundry cop and feel, and by the end of the night there’s a bar wide rendition of a song about the Matrix that we had made up minutes before (‘what’s better than back flips? It’s probably the Matrix…’ you get the idea).
February 30 is where you really start to get a feel for the Lebanese psyche. Spontaneity is always at the forefront, idiosyncrasies are actively encouraged, and pretty much anything goes (including, for some unknown reason, bathtubs instead of sinks in the loos!).
Le Capitole - Asseily Building, Downtown Beirut
After the huge success of Sky Bar, Beirut has seen a rise of imitation bars. None quite live up to the decadence of the original, but Capitole is probably the best of the rest. It’s more low key, intimate and down to earth than its more illustrious cousin, but don’t think that means you can dress down. Located right in the heart of the city, it also boasts incredible views of the recently restored Downtown area, with a stunning panoramic of the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, lit up at night in all its glory, and historic Martyr’s Square. Again, think lots of plastic surgery, lots of dancing and lots of showing off.
Capitole may not quite be able to rival Sky for Beirut’s premier night out but it offers a different and certainly not unattractive way to experience the city’s roof top night out. Grab a table and a bottle, order some shots and go to see and be seen.
Moloko Cocktail Bar – Monot Street, Beirut
The walls are a rich, dark red, the lights dim, this is a strange combination of chic and gritty urbane. This bar is best experienced on a Friday night. Fake boobs are popping out of girls’ revealing dresses, their thin, tanned backs accentuated by their figure hugging clothes, and legs only covered by the merest suggestion of fabric. Meanwhile guys, hair gelled back to perfection, and microphone in head, croon either English or Arabic love songs almost faultlessly. Indeed, while we are there, for a passer-by, the only clue that this is karaoke night comes during our tone deaf rendition of Sweet Child o’ Mine, so in tune is everyone else.
This is probably best experienced from one of the outside seats where you can just sit in the balmy evening air and enjoy the show. Of course, if you do want to get involved, then have a few more drinks, pick a song and head inside to unleash your inner Axl Rose (or perhaps Justin Bieber if that’s more your style).
Hypnotic - Lebnan Street, Gemmayze, Beirut
This is a dive in the original sense of the word but, if it’s six in the morning and you’re looking for one last drink in Gemmayze, then this is the last bar standing. Inside, sweat drips from the ceiling, it’s dank, and doors are falling off their hinges. The owner, ex-army or perhaps something altogether more sinister, greets you with his thick accent, a nasty combination of Russian and American, while the DJ in the corner struggles to stand up behind his decks. Hypnotic represents the gritty underbelly of the Beirut drinking scene.
Perch yourself by the bar, using it as a balance if necessary, order a whiskey and make the most of the fact that you’re in a city which doesn’t sleep! And neither should you…
B018 - Quarantaine LOT N. 317, Beirut
It almost has to be seen to be believed. Located underneath a carpark in the eerily named Quarantaine, a quiet industrial area, B018 is Beirut’s original ‘hypogeal’ super club. Rumours about its history are manifold, its origins dating back to the civil war, and it’s suggested that the site even used to be a Palestinian refugee camp. Yet, come three or four in the morning, there is nothing sombre about the atmosphere as the crowds start to build. Hot, sweaty, confusingly decorated – a combination of ‘war architecture’ and throne like chairs – you almost feel that you’re in some secret warehouse rave. Then, you look upwards towards the roof in a slightly drunken haze and realise it’s suddenly disappeared and, from the dancefloor, you can see the stars and moon above.
B018 almost transports you back to the Civil War period, it’s purely hedonistic vibe reminding you that peace is never taken for granted in this mesmerising city, so make the most of life while you can!
Music Hall - Starco Center, Omar Daouk Street, Downtown Beirut
This converted theatre is part-cabaret, part-live music venue and part-night club, and it epitomises Beirut. It’s glamorous, gaudy, slightly seedy, full of exuberant culture with a heady mix of different influences and an incredible love for life. Live bands, ranging from traditional Arab musicians to others playing gothic rock covers of Abba perform at regular intervals, interspersed with a resident DJ playing a standard range of cheesey, sing-a-long classics, nice. All the while, the clientele break into seemingly random and spontaneous dancing.
If it’s just the two of you for a romantic night out, then book a table above the main seating area, order a bottle of fantastic Lebanese wine and sit back and watch the show. If you’re looking for something a bit more lively then get a booth in the throng of things and get ready to spend the evening bumpin n grindin on tables and chairs.
Duke of Wellington - Mayflower Hotel, Yafet Street, Hamra, Beirut
Located in the Mayflower, the oldest private hotel in town, this is a suitably old school bar. Like Ron Burdundy’s apartment, it smells of rich mahogany and, for a more relaxed evening, you can park yourself in one of their dark red leather armchairs, have a pint of Al Mazaa, and breathe in the history. It’s where most British journalists would stay (and drink) during the war and our barman even tried to claim that Graham Greene was still a regular visitor.
Seeing as he died (aged 86) back in 1991, that’s almost certainly not the case. But he was a guest of the hotel, along with Graham Hill, Kim Philby et al when Beirut was the place to come back in the 60s.
Grand Cafe – Corniche, Raouche, Beirut
Not a bar in the traditional sense (in that it doesn’t serve alcohol) but it should be remembered that a large proportion of Lebanese are strictly Muslim. If you need a night off the sauce, then Grand Cafe is the place to to head. Located on the famous Corniche and overlooking the spectacular Pigeon Rocks, this is one of the best places for shisha in town. Not just for the stunning sea views and that heady mix of balmy evening air, salt and seaweed but because they have a wonderful selection of flavours, from personal favourites such as mint and lemon, to the more traditional double apple. It’s a place to see the other side of Lebanese culture as well, large families, the women often veiled, relax with a pipe in one hand and a cup of hot, sweet tea in the other. It’s also open until five in the morning, so makes a great spot to relax after a few drinks or a late supper elsewhere.
Grand Cafe is a place you can come if you want reminding that you’ve actually come to the Middle East, rather than some strange parallel universe somewhere on the Mediterranean.
Pierre & Friends - Seaside Road, Batroun
Going for an early-afternoon “dip” at Pierre and Friends more often than not ends up in a crazy evening of cocktail drinking and shisha smoking. The beach hangout used to be the only place where windsurfers would meet up after trying out tricks to impress the girls tanning on the free sun beds, and today the chilled out bar still has that Hawaiian kinda attitude.
Sit on a stool after you’ve ridiculed yourself trying to get out of the water on the slimy and slippery pebbled beach and ask for any reggae song, and the DJ/bartender will hit play! After four Piña Coladas you may feel the need for something less liquid (and to sustain the cocktail marathon) so Pierre and Friends also provides you with fresh seafood, tabbouleh and chips. The food is not amazing but the prices are pretty damn good for a beach hangout in this hood.
Last tip: when the sun goes down do try jumping off the big rock in front of the wooden bar into the seemingly shallow water. You’ll probably pull. Closing time is whenever Pierre feels like closing, just be careful on your ascent outta there.