Beirut’s rooftops open up for summer season

BEIRUT: Fresh air is hard to come by in Beirut, a city where congestion is rife and green space is sparse. So its rooftop bars, elevated above the noise and pollution, are a welcome summer retreat. So welcome in fact that this year sees several new arrivals on the open-air scene.

The latest is The Roof, a sweeping lounge bar sitting at the top of the Four Seasons’ 25 floors, which opened earlier this month. At 118 meters high, the hotel is the tallest building currently in use in the city and offers a panoramic view of the sea and the sunset that is difficult to fault, especially while sipping one of the bar’s signature rose mojitos.

“We have had the rooftop since we opened [the hotel] last year,” says Huda Malhas, the Four Seasons’ director of marketing. “We thought it was a shame not to have it available for those not staying here at the hotel.”

As is fitting for a bar atop one of the city’s most refined hotels, The Roof takes a pared-down approach compared to many of Beirut’s more glitzy establishments. The décor is all clean lines and neutral colors, the furniture made mostly in Lebanon, with some additions shipped in from Italy. The drinks menu is unfussy, offering a range of spirits from which cocktails can be prepared to request.

The bar has three lives, Malhas says, with its post-daytime incarnation split between the sunset and the night crowd.

“We’d like the bar to be somewhere that people come for a post-work drink,” says Malhas. “That’s something people do in Europe, for instance, but there’s not really a tradition of it here. We think The Roof could be the place to do that.”

Not too far from the Four Seasons is another newcomer, Iris, which opened for the first time in May, atop An-Nahar’s building in the Downtown area, replacing the rooftop’s previous resident, White bar, which is promising a relaunch elsewhere soon.

Iris is a more relaxed affair than its predecessor, offering an evening spot for food and drinks, rather than all-night partying.

But if these newest additions suggest that Beirut’s party scene might be calming down, then the seasonal opening night of Sky Bar, one of Beirut’s best-known rooftop clubs, last Friday, put paid to such notions. Though there was slightly less fanfare than expected (a rumored appearance from rapper T-Pain never materialized) there were no fewer crowds, proving that the 8-year-old club is still a firm favorite among the city’s partygoers.

To top this off is Pier7, an ambitious open-air dockside complex in Nahr al-Mott, encompassing both club and restaurant, the opening of which is set to take place June 30. The venue, which has a potential capacity of up to 2,000 looks likely to embrace the tendency to excess that can be seen in the city, with a pier extending into the sea, and seven private suites which include their own bars, terraces and facilities.

The city is set for a lively summer and it seems that nothing, even the regional turmoil, is likely to get in the way. In Beirut, says Malhas, “nothing stops people from going out … If you can get to somewhere and party, then you will party.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 22, 2011, on page 12.




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