Friday, October 08, 2010

The most cosmopolitan neighborhood in the Middle East

Hamra, Beirut.

'Hala Alsalman, a 32-year-old Canadian-Iraqi documentary filmmaker, sat on a vintage couch next to the cafe’s separate library, which has film screenings on Monday nights and offers an impressive buffet of books, CDs and DVDs.

She was in Beirut to document the rebuilding of the old, destroyed synagogue in downtown Beirut as part of a film project about Jews in the Middle East.

“It’s a pretty amazing place,” she said, opening her laptop to reveal a large photo of the building’s grandly vaulted interior and Arabian architectural details. “Many Lebanese don’t even know it’s there.” But the spirit of 21st-century Hamra emerges most fully as the sun sets and the lights of its many D.J. bars and live music spots flicker to life. That spirit echoes from every corner of the neighborhood, from the animated conversations in the livingroom-like Ferdinand lounge, noted for its hamburger with blueberry jam, to the live jazz and Arabian pop echoing from sleek new music bars like Cello and Mojo’s.

On a Tuesday night, a three-piece combo called Pindoll filled the small basement stage at a bar called Dany’s. The group shifted between cool swing, oddball funk and a lounge jazz version of “These Boots Were Made For Walkin”’ as a packed crowd swilled bottles of Almaza Beer.

Upstairs on the outdoor terrace, the owner Dany Khoury, a 33-year-old art director for films, marveled at the boom in local nightlife since he opened his namesake watering hole two years ago.

“There was nothing here,” he said between sips. “Now there’s around 20 bars” in Hamra, including three new arrivals in the same small passageway.
“Hamra was never affected by religion or politics,” said Mr. Khoury, who grew up in a Christian district across town but never dreamed of opening his bar anywhere but Hamra. “You’ll see neighbors who are Christian, Sunni, Shiite, Orthodox, Maronite, Catholic, Druze, whatever. They’re all walking on the same streets, doing the same stuff, eating the same food.”

It’s an admiration often expressed among Hamra residents and habitués. As the bar prepared to close, some boisterous Lebanese customers filed out in a flurry of chatter in Arabic, English and French. Mr. Khoury smiled. “It’s probably the most cosmopolitan neighborhood in the Middle East.” '

I want to go there.


David All said...

Thanks for linking to that informative article about the cosmopolitan Hamra neighborhood of Beirut. It is good to they are rebuilding the old synagouge. Wonder if there are any Jews left in Beirut to attend it. Also good that a documentary film is being made about Jews in the Middle East.

Tragically, Lebanon may soon be once again a Middle East battleground. It is feared that the upcoming visit to Lebanon of Iranian President Ahamdinejad, who just a few days ago referred to the Lebanonese-Israeli border as Iran's border with Israel, will be the signal for a Hezbullah coup to take over Lebanon. Read "Hizbullah Planning to Take Over Lebanon?" at
Hat tip to Alan A and comments about Hizbullah which linked to the above article. Read the post and comments at

Don Cox said...

From what I hear, Alexandria used to be equally cosmopolitan.

Bruno said...

I can't wait for Hezbollah to smash up the Israelis again. Should be worth watching. Let's see how many Merkavas go up in smoke this time. :)

David All said...

In the event of another war between Israel and Hezbollah, Bruno should be drafted and sent to serve on the Hezbollah front lines.

Aton said...

Bruno, I thought you were anti-war.

Anonymous said...

Well Bruno, man up and be on the front lines then. If not, then shut up you scared little butthurt bitch.