To borrow from Charles Dickens, Beirut is a tale of two cities. Its capital, Lebanon, is messy, erratic and prone to power outages and gridlock. Yet, chic restaurants, rooftop bars and garden hideaways harbor one of the world’s greatest food and wine cultures. Throw in its Mediterranean weather, and you just might extend your stay.
Go Deep into Wine Country
The Lebanese wine industry reflects the dichotomy of the country. Its history extends 4,000 years, yet it’s fledgling in modern techniques. Native grapes Obaideh and Merwah grow alongside international varieties like Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. For wine lovers, Château Musar in Ghazir, less than 20 miles north of Beirut, is an icon of Lebanese wine. Famous producers Château Ksara and Château Kefraya offer excellent hospitality services in the Bekaa Valley, about 1½ hours southwest of the city. Tour the former’s pretty grounds and taste a selection of its wines at the bar or tuck into traditional foods at Kefraya’s restaurant, a satisfying respite from traffic-choked roads. Founded in 1868, Domaine des Tourelles produces old-vine Cinsault, one of Lebanon’s most promising grapes.
Drink the Town
Cocktails, craft beer and wine are the heart of social gatherings here. Start in the garden bar of Union Marks, a quiet find for upscale libations amid the foliage of Bouj Hammoud. Grab a seat on the patio at L’appartement Beirut under the shade of weepy trees and sip on French, Lebanese and Armenian wines. Billed as a gastropub, Ferdinand on Mahatma Ghandhi street has a youthful clientele thirsty for sophisticated cocktails. See and be seen at trendy Iris, a rooftop destination where the rosé flows during summer sundown DJ sessions. In Saifi Village, peruse art and books over Italian food and wine at Remomero. Switch from coffee to wine as day turns to night at Torino Express to pair a bottle with one of Beirut’s best DJ-sets. Otherwise, stroll surrounding Gemmayze, the quarter with the greatest concentration of bars and restaurants.
Eating as Sport
Lebanese cuisine is diverse, combining fresh regional ingredients like walnuts, pomegranates and tahini with French technique. Thus, “make food, not war” proved a fitting slogan for Kamal Mouzawak, a social entrepreneur whose mission to reunite war-torn neighbors over a meal led him to found Beirut’s first farmers market, Souk El Tayeb. It spawned a slew of projects that include lunch-only Tawlet. At night, dining is a banquet-style sport. To dabble in high-brow multicourse feasting, book Em Sherif Restaurant or Liza on an empty stomach. Baron does seasonal fare. Work through contemporary Lebanese dishes at Loris, or just puff on flavored shisha from a hookah alongside Bekaa Valley rosé. Inside the elegant Le Gray Beirut, enjoy city views with a glass of Château Ksara red at Indigo on the Roof. Locals frequent Le Chef and Al Falamanki for familiar foods like hummus, kibbeh and lentil soup.
Hit the Mountains
For a sense of old Lebanon, ditch Beirut for mountainous Batroun. Set inside one of few preserved villages is Beit Douma, a restored 19th-century home with high ceilings and arched windows. Its cook teaches local cooking secrets in the light-filled kitchen. At night, chat with international guests around the communal table over a bottle of Batroun wine. On the way back to Beirut, visit Ixsir Winery to sip mineral-flecked Syrah on the leafy patio, or book a tasting at Atibaia for its structured red blend.