Hamra Street, Beirut
Written by Karen Martin Illustration by Marion Vitus
Arabic type-designer and typographer Pascal Zoghbi takes Oryx readers beyond the international brands on Hamra Street to the hidden gems of its easily missed alleyways.
“The thing I like about Hamra is that it’s one of the few streets in Beirut where there are pedestrians, and one of the only that is lively all day,” says Pascal. “It’s a more cultural, arty place compared to others that are maybe more commercial.
“There’s a theatre called Al Madina Theatre; it’s one of the oldest theatres in Beirut, and every night there’s something going on, whether it’s a play or an exhibition, or cultural dancing.
“Beside it there’s a very nice Lebanese restaurant called Kababji, serving traditional Lebanese food, and I’ll usually go there after the theatre,” he says.
“Another cultural venue is DRM, or Democratic Republic of Music, down a small alley off Hamra Street. Every weekend they have live music with famous bands from the Middle East and internationally. It’s a very intimate venue.
“There are also some nice old restaurants and cafés in Hamra from the cultural age of Beirut when writers, journalists, and poets used to go there,” says Pascal. “One still existing that I like a lot is Cafe Younes, just off Hamra Street. It’s on a very narrow street where you may not notice it; only the people that really know Hamra go there.
“There are a couple of pubs I go to that are very small, and more casual and arty, also down side alleys. The walls are filled with writing and drawings and you can take a pen and write something yourself. The first is Dany’s, and the other is Evergreen. The bartender here calls himself ‘Amigo’. The ceiling is covered with pieces of paper, and on each piece is a wish. Amigo will ask new customers to make a wish; he writes it down, puts water on it, and throws it on the ceiling – and whether it comes true or not depends on whether the paper stays stuck or falls off.”
Pascal confesses to not being a big shopping fan, “but two shops that are different to the big international brands are Ants, which sells handmade accessories, clothes, and bags, and House on Mars, where you’ll find pieces that you won’t find in other places – jewellery, T-shirts, and so on,” he says.
“The main street of Hamra is very clean and well taken care of; its side streets are less developed and there are still some remnants from the war, so there’s a contrast between the new, glamorous shops and the more traditional buildings,” Pascal notes. “The shop signs from the ’70s and ’80s that were not destroyed or replaced sit alongside the new ones. This is what makes shopping in Hamra interesting to me; since I am a typographer I can see its history in this way.”
Distance: 1,818 km
Flight Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes
Frequency: 4 flights a day