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MONDAY, 21 APR 2014
02:29 AM Beirut time
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Catch Euro 2012 championship fever Beirut-style
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BEIRUT: Love football or loathe it, Euro 2012 is set to invade your life today. So, it’s time to strategize. For lovers, this means sussing out the spots with the best screens and the best atmospheres; for loathers, it’s all about minimizing the pain. While The Daily Star’s bias is definitely on the side of the football-philes in seeking out a selection of viewing venues, it hasn’t wholly forgotten those of an opposing disposition. As of Thursday evening, Hamra was definitely leading the central Beirut neighborhoods for European Championship zeal and preparedness.

On the balmy summer evenings ahead, Euro 2012 is set to be unmissable in this part of town – literally. Flags of the 16 competing nations adorn a multitude of bars and restaurants, and TV and projector screens have popped up on assorted corners, meaning that just by strolling the length of either Makdissi Street or Hamra Street, you’re bound to catch the latest action.

If you want to actually settle in somewhere for the games, The Daily Star recommends the following viewing spots:

The best outdoor venue is almost certainly Café Hamra, where a courtyard garden to the rear is decked out with flags and multiple screens. Rest assured that every game of the tournament will be shown here. Staff recommend you reserve your table ahead of time and show up at least 30 minutes prior to kickoff to get settled in. There is a minimum charge of LL25,000 per person, but if you’re planning on eating, you’ll spend that easily. Also, if you’re an accompanying spouse or less interested party, this cafe is replete with baskets of novels – thrillers appear to be in particularly ample supply – for customers. A good selection will surely prove an ideal 90-minute distraction.

Other good spots for outdoor viewing in the neighborhood are Kakaya, where alcohol is absent but a regular crowd of local football enthusiasts will certainly be present, and Napolitana, where you can enjoy your football with a side of pizza; however, be prepared for a strong Italian bias.

While several of Hamra’s more established bars have cancelled happy hours during games (Calibiri) or set minimum charges (Bricks, Red Booth), a variety of newcomers promise a nonstop party from one end the tournament to the other.

Predictably, the owners of London Bar on Makdissi Street are supporting England, but they assure that all nations are welcome at the pub. Games will be shown downstairs on two screens as well as on an 80-inch screen in a renovated upstairs section set to open with the tournament’s first match Friday. Happy hour (until 9 p.m. daily) will run throughout the championship, as will London Bar’s Monday night open beer offer ($20, 9 p.m. to midnight) and Wednesday night open cocktails ($25, 9 p.m. to midnight). Female sports fans (and men with reluctant girlfriends) might like to note that Tuesday is ladies’ night; every other drink is free for those of xx chromosomal composition.

Further down the same street, Diago, manager of Moscow Mule and possessor of “the biggest Holland flag,” assures that a minimum charge will not be introduced and there will be free shots during games at his establishment. Four screens will carry the matches, including one large LCD screen, which will be visible from some of the bar’s outdoor tables. Happy hour will continue to run daily from 4-8 p.m. and Sunday’s open beer and wings for $20 won’t be curtailed. Diago, however, also emphasizes that underage drinkers won’t be accommodated.

When there’s a major tournament, everyone’s suddenly a huge fan – or worse, an interminable expert – but a clutch of Monnot establishments host those who are unfalteringly committed to the beautiful game year round.

Chief among these, and The Daily Star’s top choice, is The Greedy Goose, where a healthy rivalry between its owner and manager adds an extra layer of weight, and indeed entertainment, to proceedings – the former supports England, the later Ireland. The Goose fills up quickly, so it’s worth reserving ahead of time. A special menu offering open beer or wine with dinner and dessert is usually offered during tournaments, but the precise details of this championship’s version had yet to be finalized at the time of print. Expect a minimum charge to be introduced toward the latter stages of the competition.

If you show up late and find the Greedy Goose packed to capacity, join the overspill down the street at either Pints or Celti, which both make for adequate alternatives.

The top option in Gemmayzeh is probably Bulldog. Located off the main street, it’s a typical no-frills sports bar, which like the Greedy Goose has seen fans through all major football competitions. It may look tiny from the front, but the space opens up to the rear, and its two screens make viewing possible from all points in the bar.

Gemmayzeh area alternatives include: Black Ice – easily spotted by its colorful flag display; Camelot – small and cramped, but passionate; and Coop d’Etat – a rooftop that promises a small screen for the early rounds and a large projector screen from the quarterfinals onward.

Further down the street in Mar Mikhail, a small bar with a big reputation – built on its dangerously cheap happy hour cocktails – has invested in a big screen and looks set to become a popular haunt this tournament. Chaplins bar is offering $20 open Almaza while the game is on, throughout the whole championship.

If you want to mix it up for a game or two with an alternative viewing experience, head toward Haret Hreik, or any area south of Tayyouneh, and meander the streets until you come upon a street-corner cafe where crowds have spontaneously gathered to watch the match. Expect particular excitement on nights when Germany, and Italy and Spain to a lesser extent, line out – although, that may change depending on who comes out on top after the first round.

Committed as The Daily Star was to finding a beach with a TV screen to recommend, it came up short. A close, but let’s face it, not-quite-wonderful, alternative is MyWaterfront, a bar on the seafront at Beirut’s Zaitounay Bay. The screen unfortunately is located indoors, but in between halves and matches you could always adjourn to the outdoors. There is no minimum charge, and reservations are optional but might prove helpful to avoid disappointment.

Another option, particularly for those that find weekend football-watching problematic, is to head north of the city and hit the beach in the afternoon. By the time kickoff rolls around about 7 p.m. the sun-loving but less zealous football fans among your contingent should be placated and adequately docile to follow you into either Jbeil or Batroun, where you’ll doubtless find a selection of venues eager to feed you drinks and dinner while you watch the games.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 08, 2012, on page 2.
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