Ha! I’m alive again my friends! Yesterday was my first Friday night out in 3 weeks! I have beaten the flu, finally eradicated all signs of food poisoning from my system and slept off the insane post-sickness fatigue inspired by both. Now to make up for lost time!
Yesterday, I began the night by having a pizza dinner with Charles at Napoletana, an Italian chain restaurant here in Beirut. Granted, by Lebanese standards, it’s a little overpriced – for a pizza and a beer you’ll end up dropping about $16 – but the atmosphere is nice and the vegetarian pizza is pretty damn good. No, I’m not a vegetarian, have no fear. I just like kteer khudra (lots o’ veggies) on my pizza. Plus, the branch we went to is on Hamra street – the main street running though the neighborhood of Hamra (university district here in Beirut) – so there’s always plenty of quality people-watching to be enjoyed. Around 10pm, happy and full for the first time in weeks and with plans to meet up with Charles again in a few hours time, I walked home with my two leftover slices of pizza sliding around in an oversized take-away box.
Charles called at midnight just as I was being pulled into the death grip of that hazy, sleepy state of mind that sucks you into your bed, preventing you from enjoying all the night has to offer. But somehow I rallied, chugged a red bull (shukrun Charles!) and met Charles at Walimat Wardeh, a fantastic restaurant/bar in Hamra that I have come to know and love.
Walimat Wardeh, also known simply as ‘Walimat’ or ‘Wardeh,’ has been around for 14 years now, which is really saying something in Beirut where stores, bars and restaurants seem to appear and disappear on a regular basis. It was opened by a man named Wardeh Hawaz in 1995, on the ground floor of a charming house on Makdissi Street.
The amazing thing about this place is that it really feels like someone’s home. Someone’s beautiful home. There are stained glass windows and eye-catching tile floors that change patterns as you go from room to room. During the day, it’s a cozy place to go for a hot meal and free internet, and at night it explodes with character and energy as intellectuals mix with a trendy young crowd, drinking and listening to a fun mix of music.
The restaurant serves delicious, home-cooked, traditional Lebanese meals that awaken memories of your grandmother’s cooking. Well, if you’re lucky enough to have a Lebanese Tita (grandmother) YUM! I love you, Tita! The menu is handwritten on blackboards in English and Arabic, changes regularly and is reasonably priced. For 10,000 Lira (about $6.50) you can get a main course meal that will fill you right up and leave you beaming.
Charles and I came at night though, when the music was pumping and overflow guests were pouring out onto the sidewalk. We managed to squeeze our way through the crowds, bought some drinks and found standing room near the band that was performing that night. The band was called ‘Ziad Sahab & Chahadin ya baladna‘ and their music was fantastic. They actually play at Walimat every Friday. I should become a groupie! I only wish I’d known about them before I came – I would have bought a CD and memorized all the lyrics. As I was, I was kind of out of place given that everyone else in the place seemed to know all their songs by heart. They play fantastic Arabic music and everyone in Walimat was bouncing, dancing and singing along. Ah! It was such a great night!
Once the concert finished, Charles and I headed over to Dany’s for some more drinks and quality conversation. Ali was DJ-ing, which is always a treat because he has fantastic taste in music. So Charles and I chilled, listened to the Doors and the Clash and talked about everything from Beirut, to politics, to movies and music, to friends and the good times we had in Cyprus.
Around 2am, craving a change of pace, we headed over to the apartment of May and Alexa, two other ex-pats interning this summer at the Daily Star, Lebanon’s main English newspaper. My flat-mate Michael was there as well and the four of us chatted, listened to music and drank wine straight from the bottle until 4:30am when we really couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. The morning call to prayer from a nearby mosque kept me company on my walk home and as I crawled into bed (after wolfing down my left-over pizza – yesssss!) I was grinning from ear to ear. Hey, Beirut! I’m baaaack!