In Beirut, the Zaitunay Bay Promenade Opens

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ALTHOUGH many residents of Beirut were strolling along the newly opened waterfront promenade, Zaitunay Bay, on a mild January morning, it was almost eerily quiet. The Lebanese capital is not exactly known for tranquillity  --  a cacophony of car horns provides the soundtrack for nearly all strolls here  -- but on this attractive marina nestled below street level, you could hear the water lapping against the hulls of docked pleasure craft.

Six years in the making, the elegant pedestrian esplanade, which opened in December and will soon have 17 restaurants and 7 retail shops is a sign of the downtown coastline's revival.

"Ten years ago, this area of Beirut was dead," said Raphael Sabbagha, co-chairman of Zaitunay Bay's development company.

Indeed, during the 15-year Lebanese civil war, a nearby section of Mediterranean coastline served as a notorious dumping ground. Where there was once an open sewer outlet bordering a mountain of garbage there's now a stunning teak boardwalk, ample terrace seating and gray basalt walkways.

The ambitious 215,000-square-foot development, designed by the architect Steven Holl, literally grew out of the stabilized landfill. "All of this was reclaimed and rebuilt after the 1975 civil war," said Farouk Kamal, the other chairman of the development company. Pointing about 2,000 feet inland, he added, "The seafront used to be in front of that church."

The offerings at Zaitunay Bay are distinctly high-end. There is a Champagne bar, a yacht club and a jeweler. But this is not just another glittery attraction out of reach to average Lebanese. In December the esplanade hosted an open-air Christmas market, with a lighted olive tree. There are also free concerts and "cultural flea markets" planned for the public, including a flower market for Mother's Day (in March) and a music festival on the summer solstice.

"It's the phoenix of downtown Beirut coming back," said Samir Boubess, owner of the Cozmo Café (961-136-1650; boubess.com) at Zaitunay Bay.

Karim Haidar, a chef who runs three restaurants in Paris, returned to Lebanon after 25 years to open the creative Lebanese kitchen Zabad (961-137-6620; zabadrestaurant.com). A recent nine-course tasting menu (86,000 Lebanese pounds, or $59 at 1,453 pounds to the dollar) began with a chickpea and tahini espuma, featured a tiger prawn kibbeh with figs and dates, and wrapped up with a dessert pancake of pistachio and blackberry caramel.

Starting March 1, visitors will be able to rent a boat to sail around the inviting, aquamarine-hued Mediterranean at Water Nation Sports Center (961-3204-455;waternation.com.). Water Nation also offers scuba courses (from $150), 12-hour sailing courses ($400), or 12 sessions of water skiing ($400).

Amarres Bistro & Café Français (961-137-2292; amarresbeirut.com) channels the South of France with well-executed standbys like duck confit (38,000 pounds) and steak tartare with truffles (35,000 pounds) and an interesting French and Lebanese wine list.

A different aesthetic reigns at the Cro Magnon Steakhouse & Bar (961-1371-276; lecromagnon.com). "We wanted to go for something very industrial, like a dockyard," said its owner, Joey Ghazal. The restaurant serves dry-aged U.S.D.A. prime beef cuts. The bone-in filet mignon special ($48) added a caveman touch to a normally dainty cut of meat. There's a cigar cabinet, leather banquettes and a vaulted brass ceiling.

Mr. Ghazal's other offering at Zaitunay Bay is the nautical St. Elmo's Brasserie (961-1367-356; stelmosbrasserie.com), which he described as "Boston fisherman style": "I wanted it to be a place where sailors would go and have a drink and meet girls," he said. With its sleek décor and lobster rolls (30,000 pounds), it is more reminiscent of Martha's Vineyard.

The Canadian-born Mr. Ghazal was working in the restaurant business in Montreal when the chance to move to his family's native Lebanon arose. It was as much a mission as a business opportunity. "It's kind of humbling," said Mr. Ghazal. "You're coming back to your roots and doing something that advances your country." 


This article originally appeared in The New York Times .


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