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Zaitunay Bay brings back old glory days at Beirut Marina

The promenade of Zaitunay Bay.

BEIRUT: The promenade and restaurants at Zaitunay Bay at the Beirut Marina held a soft opening of its completed promenade Tuesday to show off Beirut’s latest waterfront dining and shopping destination.

The new waterfront at the marina has spaces for 17 restaurants and 5 retail stores. Many are still in the finishing process but a few have fully opened, with hopes to create yet another Beirut culinary scene – but this time, right on the water.

“You cannot go wrong with a beautiful place like this,” says Samer Bissat, General Manager for the Beirut Waterfront Development. “There are not a thousand things you can do next to a marina but everything we’ve built lends itself to the venue.”

Bissat explains that the Zaitunay Bay project began six years ago, and that BWD and Solidere are pleased to finally open the development after so many “major interruptions.”

“A big part of developing in Lebanon is you cannot control the timing,” he says.

But today, the first stage of realizing the vision of Zaitunay Bay is a reality. The goal, Bissat says, was to create a “happening destination,” a variety of restaurants and activities for the daytime and evening with “the spirit of a promenade.”

Another important aspect important to the developers was to install dining options at multiple price ranges. There are high-end restaurants but also more low-key places such as Classic Burger Joint, Lina’s, Paul and Haagen Daz.

The restaurants are all situated on the marina level of the promenade. The street level has an upper walkway meant for temporary events – currently Zaitunay Bay’s Marche de Noel which runs through Dec. 23. Stairs lead down from the upper walkway to the promenade where the restaurants all have outdoor seating areas that reach to the deck of the marina.

The development and the restaurants have fully embraced the waterfront venue. For instance, the French bistro café Amarres (French for “mooring”) is set up to resemble “something you might find in the south of France on the seaside,” according to Ziad Kamel founder and CEO of the Alleyway Group – the same team behind Couqley in Gemmayzeh.

“Our goal is to make French cuisine accessible and not pretentious,” continues Kamel, adding you can eat at Amarres for $35-$40 per person including wine.

“There might be a perception of Zaitunay Bay that it is elitist but it’s not the case,” Kamel says. “Zaitunay Bay is not just for tourists, it’s for the Lebanese and the tourists are the cherry on top.”

St. Elmo’s – a restaurant named for the patron saint of sailors – also follows this model with specialty nights seven days a week: Monday is all you can eat mussels, Tuesday is ladies night when ladies drink for free, Wednesday is lobster night (imported from Canada), Thursday is a sangria fest and Friday a beer fest. St. Elmo’s has an a la carte champagne brunch menu Saturdays and Sundays. Regular meals average about $40 a person.

With a casual and comfortable vibe, St. Elmo’s director of operations, Naji Khoury says: “It is meant to look like a restaurant right on the shore where sailors from all over come for all sorts of food and drink.”

This energy is reflected in a menu that includes fish and chips as well as homemade chocolate chip cookies and deep-fried mars bars.

The variety of restaurants from casual and cheap to different cuisines, such as Indian and Lebanese, are ready to welcome diners. But Zaitunay Bay has also taken a special focus on kids to make the promenade family friendly.

Water Nation, set to open in mid-January, will be the watersports hub of the marina. It will run winter and summer camps for teaching kids diving and sailing. Water Nation will also offer visitors Jet Ski and boat rentals.

Although open to the public now, Zaitunay Bay still needs time for finishing touches, says BWD chairman Kamal Farouk. He expects that in two to three months all of the promenade and restaurants will be up and running and hopes that the yacht club project will be done by the spring.

“It’s the first day and there have been 1,000 people but this does not yet make it a success. We are happy to see people enjoying it but it needs time to mature.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 21, 2011, on page 12.

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