Friday, 13 Dec 2019

An insider’s guide to Beirut nightlife

Middle Eastern cities like Tel Aviv and Dubai might be seen as glitz and glamour, but Beirut nightlife has been keeping the region partying for decades. From quintessential Lebanese watering holes to cosmopolitan cocktail bars and traditional pubs, the nightlife in Beirut is varied, meaning there’s something for everyone in this fun-loving hotspot. While the city might not be totally backpacker cheap, there are plenty of happy hour offerings which reduce the price and help visitors embrace the local culture without breaking the bank. So, get ready to experience pickled carrots with a bottle of ‘Almaza’ while marvelling at the skyline, as locals welcome you with open arms and shisha smoke fills your lungs.

beirut nightlife, view of the skyscrapers of the city from above

? @chrumo

Best bars in Beirut

Best bars in Hamra

  1. Ferdinand Bar

Hamra is billed as the first party district of Beirut, and Ferdinand Bar does its best to keep the neighbourhood as lively as Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael. With the motto “be in love with life – every minute of it”, it takes its responsibilities seriously without being pretentious. A mix of 80s and 90s music quietly hums in the background while the white noise of drinkers enjoying Ferdinand’s notorious range of cocktails provides a cool buzz in an elegant and sophisticated setting. I recommend opening the storybook-style menu and trying an ‘Oaxaca,’ a mezcal-based cocktail infused with chocolate. Happy hour starts at 5pm and ends at 8pm, so it’s best to get there early before it fills up with locals, travellers and expats all trying to take advantage of drinks that usually cost 20,000 Lebanese pounds.

  • Address: Mahatma Gandhi Street, Hamra, Beirut
  • Opening times: 5pm to 1:30am
  • Close to: The American University of Beirut (10 minute walk), Raouche Rocks (10 minute drive)

    beirut nightlife, person pouring a cocktail

    ? @louishansel

  1. Ales & Tales

Ales & Tales is unlike the majority of bars that line the streets of Hamra. For starters, it has three floors, all of which offer a different vibe. The first is perfect for bar dwellers who want to be in the thick of the action, the second is the place to chill on comfy sofas and play retro arcade games, and the third is an excellent viewpoint that overlooks the busy street of Cheikh Elias Gaspard. Also, beer is pretty affordable at 7,000 LBP (£3.50), or even cheaper during the daily happy hour,from 5-8 pm. Plus it stays open and is busy until 3am. It’s a funky hipster establishment that’s always ready to rock and roll. A tip: watch out for the enthusiastic, well-dressed bartenders zipping up and down the metal staircase!

  • Address: Cheikh Elias Gaspard, Hamra, Beirut
  • Opening times: 3pm to 3am
  • Close to: Ferdinand Bar. It’s an excellent addition to your Hamra bar crawl in the heart of the ‘going-out’ district.
  1. Rabbit Hole Pub

Speaking of well-dressed bartenders, they don’t come much more stylish than the guys and girls that work in the Rabbit Hole. Donning their best shirt and trousers combo with a matching dicky bow tie and braces, they throw serious shapes while serving customers and seemingly don’t have a care in the world. Although it’s a little cramped between these impromptu flash mobs, it’s hard to hold it against them as their energy is infectious – just like Beirut nightlife! I found it hard not to join in a sing-a-long session when the DJ dropped ‘California love’ and ‘here come the hotstepper.’ The prices make anyone who frequents this joint a lot looser, too – beers are 7,000 LBP (£3.50), shots 8,000 (£4) LBP and cocktails 17,000 LBP (£9). Get there between 5-8pm for happy hour half-priced drinks, as well as a seat, as things escalate very quickly.

  • Address: Cheikh Elias Gaspard, Hamra, Beirut
  • Opening times: 3pm to 3am

Honourable mentions in Hamra go to Captain’s Cabin and Neighbors Pub. The former is a maritime-themed bar with classic pub games like darts and pool. The beer is about as cheap as it gets, too. The latter is a small establishment that looks like a shack but opens up into a big upstairs area with a terrace. Cocktails are 14,000 LBP (£7) and the tunes are unashamedly indie.

beirut nightlife, people cheering with beer

? @quentindrphotography

Best bars in Mar Mikhael

  1. Anise

Your Beirut nightlife experience isn’t complete without a trip to Mar Mikhael, and Anise is the focal point. Check out any bar guide to the city and you’ll find this establishment on the list. Why? You might think it’s because of the stylishly suave bartenders, or the sultry mood lighting. However, it’s the fact that this bar specialises in ‘arak,’ a local aniseed spirit. The translucent white liquid is indigenous to the Middle East, especially the western Mediterranean side, and it gets better with each try. Of course, aniseed isn’t for everyone, so Anise has an alternative – moonshine. It won’t win any taste contests, but how can you say no? For those who value their internal organs, an excellent range of well-mixed cocktails is also available on request.

  • Address: Alexander Fleming Street, Mar Mikhael, Beirut
  • Opening times: 6 pm to 1 am daily (other than Thursdays and Fridays – closes at 2 am)
  • Keep in mind: The bartenders are experts in all things arak, so don’t be afraid to ask for their opinion before picking the tipple of your choice
  1. Abbey Road

The name is a little confusing, because nothing about Abbey Road is sixties inspired. Sure, the odd era-appropriate tune might find its way onto the playlist, but I wouldn’t class it as a bar that pays homage to the Beatles. And it’s not as funky or as far-out as you would expect of a place with such an iconic name. Still, Abbey Road doesn’t need to piggyback off Lennon and co. because it has a dedicated following of its own. With a happy hour that stretches for a full five hours, it’s not hard to see why. The small floor space is well worth tolerating, particularly as the cramped quarters add to the ambience and you can stand on the street if you need to take a breath. Plus, the graffiti artwork only cements this boozer as one of the coolest spots in town.

  • Address: Rue Armenia, Mar Mikhaël, Beirut
  • Opening times: 6pm to 3am, every day
  • Keep in mind: Abbey Road isn’t for people who like their space. However, Rue Armenia is packed with bars so you can quickly move on if you start to feel claustrophobic

beirut nightlife, girls drinking cocktails

? @mdisc

  1. Internazionale

Internazionale has been around since Lebanon’s capital city catapulted itself into the lists of the best nightlife in the Middle East. As a result, it’s always busy regardless of the time of day or the season. But don’t let that put you off, the bohemian vibe makes it a cosy and comfortable place to enjoy an early evening beverage. I love the furniture, which is as retro as the bar itself. There isn’t a happy hour here, at least one that is advertised or consistent, so you might want to keep it to one drink and sample other places. Try and grab one of the limited seating options on the street to watch passers-by hop from one pub to another. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse and decide which of the hundreds of Mar Mikhael bars to venture into next.

  • Address: Rue Armenia, Mar Mikhael, Beirut
  • Opening times: 9:30am to 2:30am
  • Keep in mind: Although it’s named after the Italian football club, it isn’t football-themed and you won’t run into fanatics trying to watch a game. Torino Express (Gemmayzeh) is Inter’s sister bar.

Other notable bars in the area include Central Station, which is shaped like a carriage from the New York subway, and Hogwarts, a Harry Potter bar (as the name suggests) with 50% off all drinks from 5 pm to 9 pm.

Best bars in Gemmayzeh

  1. Aaliya’s Books

A literary cafe won’t spring to mind when you think about the best nightlife in Beirut, but that’s the incredible thing about this city – it’s full of surprises. Next door to restaurants and coffee shops that begin to feel generic, Aaliya’s Books is a welcome change with its sprawling floor space and edgy design. Whether you sit back and relax in an armchair with a novel or sit at a table with the rest of the digital nomads, you can do it with a beverage of your choice. Beers are available, but Aaliya’s is popular for its cocktails, particularly martinis. Both the Aaliya’s Martini and Dirty Martini are half price from 6pm to 9pm. Offers are seasonal, but you’ve got to try an Ali’s Arabica Blend during the autumn. It’s pricey at 18,000 LBP (£9), but the jun gin, espresso, cardamom and three liqueur mix tasted like no other cocktail I’ve tried.

  • Address: Rue Gouraud, Gemmayzeh, Beirut
  • Opening times: 9 am to 12 am
  • Keep in mind: The wines are sourced from vineyards around Lebanon, so it’s the best place to try Lebanese wines (45,000 to 50,000 LBP per bottle/9,000 to 12,000 LBP per glass). Also, nightcaps are 50% off after 9 pm.
  1. Electric Bing Sutt

As the newest addition to the Gemmayzeh bar scene, Electric Bing Sutt brings novelty in spades. Merging Asian culture with a New York funk vibe, it’s one of the most interesting places to experience Beirut nightlife. Asian-Mediterranean cocktails are on the menu for the most part, but don’t worry because they taste a lot nicer than they sound! Organic wines are also a speciality of this all-day bar that’s based on 1950s Hong Kong drinking houses. Keep an eye out for DJ sets or be content with funky music that plays until 1:30 am. Maintain your energy levels for further partying with authentic Asian food.

  • Address: Rue Gouraud, Gemmayzeh, Beirut
  • Opening times: 10am to 1:30am. Lunch is 12pm to 4pm and dinner is 7 pm to 11:30-12 on weekdays and weekends.
  • Close to: Nicholas Stairs, which is worth checking out for its modern street art and graffiti.

beirut nightlife, row of drinks in a bar

? @mossphotography

  1. Coop D’Etat

You’ll be ready for a beer once you get to the top of Coop D’Etat! Scaling this five-storey building to reach the terrace is no mean feat, and one you shouldn’t take lightly. Getting down isn’t a walk in the park either, but Coop D’Etat is a staple of nightlife in Beirut and shouldn’t be missed. I loved the beach party vibe that Coop gives off thanks to the hardwood flooring and sheltered parasols which remind you of a seaside pier. Beer costs between 5,000 and 6,000 LBP (£2.50-£3) during happy hour – daily until 6 pm – so get there early and snag a seat before the obligatory DJ set begins.

  • Address: Saifi Urban Gardens, Pasteur Street, Gemmayzeh, Beirut
  • Opening times: 5pm to 1am Monday to Thursday, 11am to 2am Friday to Sunday.
  • Keep in mind: Coop D’Etat doesn’t accept reservations (unless it’s for 20+ people), but the tables do get snapped up quickly, so it’s better to turn up earlier.

Intrepid partiers should also check out Cafe Standard, a hole-in-the-wall-type bar that isn’t anything like its name. Salud is an excellent tequileria for fans of all things Mexican.

Best clubs in Beirut

  1. B 018

B 018 has a lot of history, having started life as a bunker during the Lebanese civil war. Carrying on the tradition, this club is now the foundation for underground scenesters in the Beirut nightlife world. The interior has a cold, dungeon-like feel, but it’s by no means dingy. In fact, late night ravers get to experience the sun rising over Beirut as the retractable roof inevitably slides open at some point. DJ sets are what most people come to experience, but B 018 is nothing if not flexible with its 80s nights and live bands during the week.

  • Address: Lot 317, La Quarantine, Mar Mikhael, Beirut
  • Opening times: Wednesday 8pm to 2am, Thursday 8pm to 4am, Friday and Saturday 10pm to 6am
  • Keep in mind: Drinks are expensive and there are no loopholes. If you want to experience Beirut’s most popular club, you might want to limit yourself to one night only.

beirut nightlife, people in a club with balloons

? @paulfiedler

  1. The Gärten by Uberhaus

The BIEL Development Center, or New Corniche, is the epicentre of clubland in Beirut. With so many clubs to pick from it can be tough to choose, but The Garten stands out from the crowd thanks to its music and location combo. Techno and house music is everywhere in downtown Beirut and The Garten is no different, hosting some of the most famous names and nights in the Middle East. For a $10 to $20 entry fee depending on the night, it’s also pretty cheap to get in and enjoy the acts. Plus, the outdoor space is filled with hundreds of square metres of natural greenery, making it an oasis in a part of town that can feel like a concrete jungle at times.

    • Address: Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure Center, BIEL Waterfront, Beirut
    • Opening times: 3pm to 7am
    • Close to: If you’re struggling to find The Garten, head for the Beirut Exhibition Center in downtown. Also bear in mind that this club shuts down from the end of October until the beginning of June
  1. Grand Factory

Located on the roof of an old industrial building, you get more than live gigs and DJ sets at the Grand Factory. The view itself is worth the price of admission, a panoramic scope of Beirut that stretches for miles. Don’t worry though, because the parties are just as epic. Fridays are always loud and long, yet it’s Saturdays when the real fun starts as the ‘CU NXT SAT’ party rolls into town. Pile into the elevator and wait to be whisked to the top floor before you dance the night away.

  • Address: Sea Side Road, Karantina, Beirut
  • Opening times: 9pm to 5:30am, Thursday – Saturday
  • Keep in mind: The Grand Factory is hard to find, but ordering an Uber makes it light work

Cost cutting tips for Beirut nightlife

I found Beirut nightlife wasn’t as cheap as I had hoped, but I didn’t want to miss out on the experience either. Backpackers needn’t worry, because below are some top tips on how to enjoy the best nightlife in Beirut and keep the prices low.

  1. Start early

The best way to avoid paying over the odds is to drink during the happy hours. As they start at around 4 or 5 pm and finish at 9 pm, it’s generally a good idea to get out as quickly as possible. Plan your night by starting at the earliest happy hour joint and finishing at the latest one.

  1. Use card over cash

The majority of ATMs in Beirut charge for withdrawals. Thankfully, almost all of the bars accept plastic payments, meaning you don’t need to take out money and incur unnecessary fees. You might want to ask if they have a working card machine before you order drinks because Lebanon’s electricity grid is notorious for cutting out.

  1. Download XE

Although there are lots of converters, XE keeps its exchange rates up to date so that you get real-time information on global currencies. Why mention a currency converter? It’s because the bars accept payments in Lebanese Pounds and American Dollars. Use the app to keep an eye on which rate is the best and choose to pay in that currency to save your pennies.

beirut nightlife, the city at night by the river

? @rush_intime

I hope you enjoyed this guide to Beirut nightlife and that it comes in handy on your hedonistic adventure. Got any more can’t-miss Beirut recommendations? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out our hostels in Beirut for somewhere to stay on a budget!

About the author:

Matthew Goodwin is a traveller with the knack for landing on his feet and new airport Tarmac on a semi-regular basis. Follow my adventures and my musings on Instagram and LinkedIn (Matthew Goodwin).

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