Kickin’ Back in Beirut: Al Falamanki
I’ve said Beirut is laid back, it’s a good place to relax, and more. As one Lebanese rapper put it, “the national sport of Lebanon is called chilling.” I’ll also nominate mentalist driving, but let’s go with chilling for now, because it’s hard to imagine anyone ENJOYS driving here, although I’m sure some people take perverse pleasure in pretending it’s the Monaco Grand Prix on the crowded streets (“Shou, Monte Carlo is a party town on ze Med, we are too!”)…but I digress. More than partying, more than their fabled ski-and-swim in the same day, more than anything else, the Lebanese love to sit back, relax, and enjoy life. Usually that involves a café, with coffee, tea, beer, snacks, and often an argile (hookah). The king of all such places in Beirut is Al Falamanki.
Located smack in the middle of clubland, the sprawling old house and tree-studded, tiled courtyard of Al Falamanki is a welcome respite from the throngs of Gemmayze, the pounding beats of Monot Street or the hustle and bustle of downtown. Having opened only in 2007, it quickly became one of the premiere destinations in Beirut. Consisting of what I imagine is an old, gutted, and renovated large, sprawly house, plus a sizable courtyard garden, this gem is open 24 hours a day, with a full menu of great food, a full bar, and the best argile in Beirut, which is saying a lot, since EVERY café has them. In summer it gets a bit crowded, as all the visiting Gulf Arabs make it their post-midnight home, but the rest of the year it strikes a happy balance between empty and full. The best time to go is spring or fall, avoiding the summer crowds (sometimes requiring a short wait for a table), while still able to sit outdoors (by November or so the garden seating is no more). That being said, it’s nice all year round, and even indoors is fun – they have tables and chairs but also more “oriental” style sofas and low tables. The house has a plain but somewhat old-timey decor, with lots of old tarboushes (fezzes), ouds, and brassware hanging from the wall, and vintage-era Arabic music plays softly over the speakers – overall a very nice ambiance whether inside or outside.
I’ll let the slightly dodgy pics talk a bit:
As you see, rather eclectic and vintagey. Cool.
So now you ask, “what should I get?”
First and foremost, Falamanki serves saaj all night long. You can get the traditional labne, za’tar, mixed, kashkawan cheese (knockout), or if you go after dinner, spring for the delicious Nutella and halawa saaj, a sort of crepe filled with chocolatey, hazelnutty, and sesame-y goodness:
They also have all kinds of salads, small dishes, and other breakfast items (multiple egg dishes – rare to find on a menu). Everything is good.
Drinkswise they have everything available in Lebanon. Homemade sharbat (iced fruit concentrate drinks), fresh juices, smoothes, milkshakes, non-alcoholic cocktails, all kinds of teas and coffees, plus a full bar featuring really good homemade ‘araq. The Turkish coffee is great, and late at night, the various teas are good (anise and cinnamon, especially), but otherwise, get the ‘araq, it’s awesome.
Last but definitely not least, the argile. Lebanon is THE country for it, and Falamanki is THE place. Most other cafés have at most 5 or so flavors. Falamanki has over 20. My utmost recommendations go for the “special” blend, and the grape & berry Jordanian blend, as well as the “musk” (which is really mastic). They do things RIGHT here – the “special” is a blend unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, and I get it about 50% of the time when I go. It’s smooth, spicy, sweet, and exotic. I have no idea what flavors they put in, so try it for yourself.
This place seriously kicks ass. It’s my post-drinks or post-dinner spot of choice, and it’s equally popular when finished with the clubs around the corner. Falamanki’s without a question my favorite establishment in the city, and it’s one of the first places I go whenever I arrive. Highest possible recommendation, and a no-brainer for my first rec for Beirut.
Between Ashrafiye and Downtown, located just off Sodeco Square, occupying the entire space between Damascus Street and Monot Street (main entrance and valet is on Damascus Street).
+961 1 32 34 56
Open round the clock