Think of Beirut and you think of flavoursome food, brilliant blue skies and a incredibly rich cultural scene.
Anchored by the sea, the capital city is diverse and pocketed with quaint neighbourhoods. We caught up with designer and stylist, Lamia Choucair, a Beirut local, for an insider's guide of where to go, what to eat and most importantly, where to go to escape the crowds.
If you could sum up Beirut in three words, what would they be?
Intense, intoxicating, exhilarating
Beirut is a coastal city – which beach should we go to in order to avoid the crowds?
Sporting Beach in Beirut - on weekdays and off-season- for its eternal 40s rundown charm and Cloud 59 on Tyr’s public beach in the south of Lebanon for the sandy strips plus all the beaches of the northern coast for cave diving and scrapping your knees on the rocky shores.
If you could choose just one museum or art gallery to visit, which one would it be?
The Sursock Museum for its 800 works of Lebanese and international modern and contemporary art.
Tell us about the shopping scene in Beirut
This is quite a broad question!
The haute couture Lebanese scene is well known and internationally acclaimed: Elie Saab, Rabih Keyrouz, Zuhair Murad etc.
A youthful scene emerged a few years back and is creating modern and cutting-edge designs: Lara Khoury, Bashar Assaf, Sandra Mansour, Timi Hayek, Krikor Jabotian…
Concept/ specialty stores:
Johnny Farah for their beautiful handcrafted leather goods, Plan Bey for gorgeous prints of local artists works and books, L’atelier du Miel for great honey collected from moving beehives around the country, and great packaging and finally, Rosa Maria for their high-end and edgy jewellery designs and more.
Product/ furniture design:
Bokja for their artfully assembled fabrics and mix of vintage and modernist shapes, Orient 499 for local and regional handicraft with a modernised twist, David & Nicolas for their retro-futuristic aesthetic and Metal and Wood for the beautiful functionality of their products.
What’s Beirut’s best kept secret?
The old port in Beirut Ain el Mraysse. Families from the area have a massive luncheon on Sundays, with music and lots of arak.
Basta, where you can hunt for vintage furniture pieces and go crate digging for rare vinyl.
Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian neighbourhood, for finding cheap clothing, vintage posters and the best fatte (chickpeas and yogurt dish) in town!
Where and what is your go-to place on a Friday night?
There are so many options! Here are my top picks:
Beirut Groove Collective in winter- for their vinyl only policy, Discotek for the gorgeously designed space and glittery crowd, Anise bar for best cocktails, Demo bar for the chill vibe and great music, Capitole for a sunset drink overlooking the city and finally, Decks on the Beach in summer for the wind sweeping through the dance floor (at Sporting Beach).
Sunday brunch spot?
Best spot for people watching?
The Raouche Corniche for a stroll by the sea with a beer or an extra sweetened hot chocolate.
Last-minute date spot?
Makan restaurant for keeping your date guessing on what world cuisine is on the menu that day, and its peaceful garden!
Where’s best to stay in Beirut?
Villa Clara is a refurbished authentic Lebanese villa from the 20s. it’s beautifully refined and luxurious. If you’re after something more comfortable with art deco charm then it has to be Baffa house or if top service is your main requirement then Hotel Albergo – it also has a fantastic rooftop terrace.
Where’s best to grab coffee? A glass of arak? A shisha?
Coffee at Kalei Coffee and Co, for the garden, art deco building and dog friendly attitude. For arak, I reccomend Bab Sharki for their amazing selection of Syrian mezze or Mezyan for the hearty food and the varied crowd. If you’re after coffee and shisha then Ahwet al Raouda is perfect; it has cats and will always remind me of the Beirut of my childhood