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The Urbanist’s Beirut

Contemporary art, notorious nightclubs, and Frenchified cafés.


La Plage Beach Club on the Corniche Beirut.  

While much of the Arab world has been blown apart by social upheaval, mass violence, and political turmoil, Beirut has been kicking back quietly on its Mediterranean perch, happy and astonished to be a spectator for once. (Even the New York Times recently hailed it a ­“haven amid turmoil.”) By day, buzzing scooters and battered old Mercedes taxis honk their way along palm-lined boulevards, unimpeded by demonstrations. By night, their occupants stroll on the seaside Corniche, smoke water pipes in cafés, and indulge in the Lebanese capital’s legendary nightlife. But of course all is not rosy. Neighboring Syria remains a battleground, to say the least. While there is a vibrant gay subculture, homosexual activity is technically illegal, and travelers with Israeli stamps in their passports can still be arrested and detained. Tensions among rival ­politico-religious factions, some heavily armed, simmer under the surface. But a relative calm in recent years has prompted a development boom—indeed, the razing of historical buildings to create luxury shopping malls has led some to decry the Dubai-ification of downtown Beirut—and a parallel blossoming in art, fashion, and gastronomy, propelling the famously bullet-riddled city to emerge as the Arab world’s creative center.


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