A View from the city: Beirut

08 November, 2016

Hamish Smith speaks to Jad Ballout, bar manager at Central Station Boutique Bar


Tell us a little about Beirut’s alcohol tradition.

The most famous alcoholic beverage from Lebanon is arak, a grape spirit flavoured with anise that is found in every Lebanese house and goes well with the local food. It is uncommon to drink arak in bars as it is more suitable for lunch or dinner gatherings, especially on Sundays when everybody has barbecues and enjoys arak. In Lebanon people drink a lot of scotch whisky and vodka but not much rum, gin, or tequila, while in the cocktail bars it is quite different as people look for the whole combination to choose their drink rather than only the spirit.

How does Beirut’s bar scene differ to other Middle Eastern cities?

Beirut is famous for its vibrant nightlife, having a lot of roof tops and open-air places during summer, as well as a wide variety of nightclubs. The cocktail bar scene started 10 years ago and is improving every year, especially having renowned competitions such as Bacardi Legacy and Diageo World Class, where more people from the international bar scene started to visit the country to do seminars, and local bartenders learned about the new trends in the global bar scene.

What are your favourite bars in Beirut?

I really like a bar called Ferdinand in the Hamra area. It has a good selection of cocktails, nice beers and a big selection of malt whiskies. I also like Dragonfly which is one of the oldest cocktail bars in Beirut located in the Gemmayze neighborhood. The Italian Project is a very good place to enjoy Italian food combined with great cocktails and, of course, the Central Station Boutique Bar.

Where does Beirut look to for inspiration? Do you see a Lebanese style of bartending emerging?

Beirut is a great city for inspiration as it has a lot of history and many influences from different populations that were here for a while, from French to Turkish, Phoenicians and Romans. The local food is very complex and rich and you can get a lot of ideas to build cocktails. Then there is the benefit of having amazing seasonal fruits, herbs and vegetables to play with in our cocktails.

At Central Station we always have Lebanese-influenced cocktails where we convert the flavours of local food into drinks such as a twist on a Mai Tai with roasted eggplants inspired by baba ganoush and served with eggplant chips and hummus dip.

What are the challenges for Beirut bartenders going forward? Is it hard to get all the products you need?

One of the problems of having a cocktail bar in Beirut is missing some special spirits, brands and equipment that is needed in a cocktail bar, thus we have to import them from Europe or the US. I think this issue will be solved soon because every year more bars are asking for the special items and the suppliers are becoming more interested to bring these items because the demand has increased.

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