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Bahi Ghubril: My Beirut


Bahi Ghubril, the publisher of Zawarib, Beirut’s first street atlas, reveals his favourite places in his native city

Where were you born?
Khalidy Hospital in Hamra, which was then the trendiest part of Beirut. It is now too commercial and slightly faded, but still has hidden gems here and there.

Where do you live?
In Sodeco, at the crossroads of bourgeois Achrafieh and downmarket Basta, where the antique market is.

What’s best about your neighbourhood?
It’s on a slight hill, so you get great views, it’s close to the city centre, as well as the highway going south, it’s down-to-earth, and I can see the Mediterranean as well as the flowering banana trees form my balcony. I love it.

If money was no object, where would you live?
If making money was no object, I’d live in Rome, where there’s nothing commercial to do whatsoever, and enjoy the aesthetics, day and night.

What are your favourite Beirut shops?
I’m not a big fan of shopping, mostly I shop duty free when my plane is delayed at airports. In general I steer away from large shopping malls, sticking to the old fashioned independents of Hamra or Mar Mikhael.

And your favourite restaurants?
I like Casablanca on Dar El Mreisseh Street for its ambience, Ashghalouna on Fares Nemr Street for its food and Time Out on St Joseph University Street for its setting.

Do you have a favourite local café or pub?
I like to keep discovering the city, so my hang-outs change regularly. These days I am happy discovering Badaro, a neighbourhood named after a 19th-century entrepreneur. There’s lots going on there, watch that space!

Any recommendations for dishes to try?
Molokhia, my favourite dish, grows in the summer. It’s a green leaf, cooked in secret spices and served with spicy chicken, rice, onion and vinegar. The best!

Where do you take out-of-town friends?
For me, Beirut is a kaleidoscope and reminds me of the closing scene of Fellini’s Roma. I like to tour upper-class Achrafieh, then nouveau-riche Raouche, foreigners’ Hamra, the plebian sectors of Ghabi, Armenian Bourj Hammoud and of course the southern suburbs where anything goes.

Where do you like to celebrate?
Nothing beats a drink by the sea and you can’t get more seaside in Beirut than the Sporting Club. There are some amazing spots outside Beirut too, in the mountains or on the coast, which are only a short drive away.

Do you have a favourite walk in Beirut?
I like to walk in and around the Sioufi gardens. Positioned near the topmost hill in Beirut, not counting the mountain suburbs, it is peaceful and yet connected to the rest of town. Sunsets on the Corniche, our seaside walk, are always fun and adventurous too.

What’s Beirut’s best landmark?
The accidental landmarks of holed buildings left over from the civil war, or old houses that haven’t been touched for decades. An absolute delight for the imaginative mind, and Beirutis love to speculate as to who owns this or what happened to that.

And the city’s best museum?
The disused buildings mentioned above.

Which Beiruti do you most admire?
The residents of this town who are making the most of what it has to offer, who remain here despite being able to live elsewhere, who are working to improve the environment, culture, sports and society in general, without being arrogant about it.

Any advice for visitors?
Get a copy of Zawarib and wander aimlessly in the streets of any of Beirut’s 58 sectors. The best way to engage with the city is to smell the jasmine flowers, the exhaust fumes, the perfumed women, the garbage and the sea all at once.

Any places you’d recommend visitors avoid?
Any place that charges an entry fee, or is selective as to who goes in. The best things in Beirut are free!

What can’t you live without?
In the short term, my laptop, credit card, et cetera. In the long term, undoubtedly my friends.

Tell us a secret.
One of the garden squares in Beirut has a little-seen bust of an ancient Greek statue, and, if you swim a few metres from the shore in Sour, South Lebanon, you can see an entire Roman city underneath the water.

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