Take it to the rooftops with Beirut’s open-air bars and lounges
By Niamh Fleming-Farrell
BEIRUT: Hot-tempered drivers, overheating pedestrians, dust, sweat: The summer is only set to intensify a plethora of irritants on the streets of Beirut. So, what do wily residents of the capital do? They rise above it all and take to the rooftops.
The infamous SkyBar may have yet to join the fray – it opens June 14 – but across the city, rain covers have been removed, furniture dusted off, lights strung and rooftop bars reopened for the summer season.
The Daily Star has progressively ascended the Beirut skyline to compile a list of the best spots for relaxing drinks, snacks and views.
Pasteur Street, Gemmayzeh
Atop the three-story Saifi Urban Gardens hostel, Coop d’etat, which opened in 2010, may be one of Beirut’s lowest rooftop bars, but this unique establishment has endeared itself to travelers and locals alike.
Unlike many of the city’s hotel rooftops, Coop d’etat is utterly without pretension and specializes in good music, drink and food, rather than concerning itself about whether or not you’re wearing the right shoes.
Colorful lighting, plentiful plants, picnic benches, comfy beanbags and faux grass make this a surprisingly lush, rustic haven amid Beirut’s concrete metropolis.
During happy hour Almazas are priced at just LL3,000, while a Sunday brunch buffet is open from 1 p.m. and costs LL20,000.
Sunbathe during the day or watch the lights of the port by night, but don’t even try to make a reservation at Coop d’etat; it’s simply first come, first served. And be warned, this is Beirut’s one rooftop establishment to which there is no elevator.C Lounge
Bay View Hotel, Ain al-Mreisseh
With white tables and chairs, C Lounge is the fresh, modern and minimalist antithesis to the hectic Corniche it overlooks – although for some the decor may prove too reminiscent of a dentist’s clinic for comfort. But for those seeking a cool, calm escape during Beirut’s soupy summer, this sixth floor sanctuary might be just the spot.
Thoughts of nightmare dentistry aside, C Lounge offers all you need: an international menu, decent cocktails and the perfect perch to watch the sun go down over the Mediterranean.
Having opened for the summer season just two weeks ago, the bar keeps daily hours of 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. and plays lounge music weekdays and house music on weekends. An average cocktail will set you back $11. Reservations are usually necessary, and while the dress code is casual, don’t even contemplate showing up in shorts and flip flops – it’s not that laid back.
Cherry on the Rooftop
Le Grey Hotel, Downtown
Also on the sixth floor, Cherry on the Rooftop’s view largely focuses guests’ attention northward, up the coast toward Jounieh and back across Mount Lebanon.
As of June 1, this poolside bar is open daily from 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and is designed for those seeking a nice drink and a small bite. While the food menu is short but diverse, the drinks menu is extensive, and includes cocktail pitchers and punches. For cherry lovers, the selection of cherry brandy cocktails will appeal. A regular cocktail costs $12.
Palm Beach Hotel, Ain al-Mreisseh
Sun7 (pronounced Sun“sept” – as in French for seven) is, predictably, a popular establishment from which to watch the sunset. Part of a three-floor complex at the Palm Beach Hotel, Sun7 is an open-air bar located beneath an eighth-floor lounge and a ninth-floor rooftop swimming pool.
Sunbathers can hit up the pool from 9:30 a.m. daily. Entry is $20 on weekdays and $25 on weekends.
Those seeking a romantic viewing platform to watch the sun go down are welcomed from 5:30 p.m. at Sun7, while the lounge bar, which plays commercial music, gets going from about 9:30 p.m.
Like its neighbor, C Lounge, Sun7 offers international cuisine and cocktails priced at around $11. Reservations are advised on weekends, and while flip flops are OK for female guests, males will not be admitted if they are wearing open shoes.
Even on a Tuesday night, the eighth floor of the An-Nahar Building is thronged. With all the tables reserved and hardly breathing space, let alone sitting space, at the bar, Iris is undeniably the rooftop to be seen on this summer. And perhaps in line with this, the venue’s design seems to invite one’s gaze more toward the interior than the mountains or sea it overlooks.
Glitzy bright lights, white leather sofas, tilting martini glasses threatening to overflow their multicolored contents and a stiletto-clad clientele make for an vibrant scene, and the multiple languages mingling in the air suggest more than one guidebook is touting this bar.
The establishment has gone for the catch-all sell on its website – “whether you’re a cuff-linked fine diner or a bikini clad après soleil cocktail drinker, Iris doesn’t judge, just delights” – but anticipate a once-up-and-down look of appraisal at the door before being, grudgingly perhaps, admitted.
This pretension, however, may be forgivable once you see the cocktail menu. Try their Pornstar Martini: vanilla vodka, passoa, fresh passion fruit and a shot of champagne.
Four Seasons Hotel, Mina al-Hosn
At The Roof one finally gains some serious altitude (26 stories) and is rewarded with panoramic views of the city. Ironically, however, the view is the only inelegant element of an evening spent on the Four Seasons’ rooftop; seaward, the vast parking lots of the New Waterfront dominate the scene, while landward one is more or less observing a rugged construction site, with just flecks of beauty – mosques, churches, Downtown – mixed in.
But all other aspects of the bar make the assent to the 26th floor more than worthwhile. The spacious, airy rooftop, which is a hotel guests’ pool club during the day, offers comfortable tables, gentle music, chilled glasses and little bowls of the plumpest cashews and almonds available. The shimmering pool water dances on the walls, making it feel like one is almost in the ocean, even though a dip is off limits.
The Roof is open Tuesday to Sunday from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. A cocktail will set you back LL23,000, an Asian tapas menu is available, and reservations are recommended on weekends.
Habtoor Grand Hotel, Sin al-Fil
Yes, it’s a bit of a ways from central Beirut, and yes, it’s definitely more dance club than chilled out bar, but the unimaginatively named Club 32, on the 32nd floor, is the highest bar in Beirut. And whether you love or loathe its DJs’ house, commercial and R&B selections, the quality of the view from this club is undeniable. From this perch, Lebanon stretches out below you like an idyllic world made entirely of fairy lights.
Club 32 is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 8:30 p.m., although, according to its management, the crowd, which is generally in its mid-20s and above, doesn’t really arrive until at least 10:30 p.m. Drinks are relatively reasonably priced, with an average cocktail costing about $10.
For those after a tamer scene, Up on the 31st, a jazz bar situated on – you guessed it – the floor below Club 32, is a great option. This relaxed lounge is open daily from 12 p.m. until the wee hours of morning, and offer drinks and light cuisine. On occasion you may also be treated to a live jazz band.
Copyrights 2011, The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved