Emergency measures in the wake of Covid-19
March 18, 2020. Beirut international airport has been closed no one will be allowed to enter through maritime or land ports. Schools, universities, bars, restaurants, and most other institutions and businesses remain closed. Security forces, health institutions, utility companies and food shops are exempted. Mosques have suspended prayers until further notice.
Note: The following article, originally published in 2010, was updated each year until 2017. During these past three years that has become increasingly difficult as Lebanese people retreat into silence and isolation. Should we still include Beirut city among our destinations in 2020? Even as Tel Aviv has become ever-more LGBTQ-friendly, the news from Istanbul to Cairo to Dubai and across the Muslim world all the way to Indonesia gets worse. Iraq, Syria, and Libya barely exist as nations. In the Magreb, Tunisia and Morocco, long-time gay destinations with very DL scenes, have remained absent from our pages, for fear of helping to destroy them. Likewise Jordan. Beirut is still uniquely different in many ways, so this article will remain for now, updated as best we can at a distance, but the terrain is uncertain, and caution is advised.
A melting pot of many cultures, Beirut is home to a great diversity of languages, nationalities and religions. This provides many contrasts in the streets, where churches and mosques sit side by side, and ancient houses survive beside modern towers.
Numerous hotels provide good accommodations, and the many restaurants offer a wide variety of cuisines. The city never sleeps. Night life gets started at around 10pm to continue into the wee hours. Monot and Gimmayze Streets, both in Ashrafieh, are centers of the scene; Hamra Street is another busy area. Another favorite, the Casino du Liban in Jounieh, has luxurious gaming rooms, elaborate Vegas style entertainment, and fine dining.
As far as the gay scene is concerned, more than one reviewer once described Beirut as the “Provincetown of the Middle East.” A bit of hyperbole, even in those more optimistic days, for a country where homosexuality was still illegal and police could raid gay meeting places. Now, more than ever, most people keep their sexuality secret from their families. In this part of the Arab world few places offer even the relative freedom from fear and persecution still found her - but then gay men have never walked hand in hand down Hamra Street either.
In public, locals say, be discreet. Gay people can hang out together in chic cafes, dine at trendy restaurants, or dance at hip clubs without fear of being harassed by the police, but sexual meeting places like bathhouses and cruising areas are more dangerous. Beirut became a magnet for men from all over the Middle East, and until recently from Europe and beyond as well. But with fewer international visitors since the peak years around 2010-2013, an influx of Syrian refugees, and increasing uncertainty about the country's political and economic future, people are ever more cautious.
Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport is about 20 minutes from downtown. Taxis services are available from the airport. Certified taxis with the airport logo are parked next to the arrival terminal. Regulated by airport authorities, they charge a standard official rate. Charges of regular taxis found elsewhere are subject to bargaining.
Beirut is a compact city, so walking is the best way to see the sights. If you’re going farther, taxis are easy to find. Area bus services are provided by OCFTC with a fleet of blue and white city-buses, and the LCC red and white minibuses. For tips on using them, and bus stations for destinations beyond the city, see the Living Lebanon website.
Currency and Money
Lebanese lira are the currency, but many places accept US dollars and euros. ATMs are found in the center. Let your home bank know your travel plans to avoid credit card hassles, and ask if they have a local partner bank that can save on ATM withdrawal fees.
Media & resources
LebLGBT Weekly has online LGBT news and information for Lebanon and the Arab diaspora, updated weekly.
The Blog from BeirutBoy has tips, observations and news about this city. GayInBeirut is another blog of interest, dating from more open times of 5-7 years ago, but not recently updated.
Beirut.com has more general info on what to do and where to stay, explore, eat and relax in this city.
The Empire Metropolis at Centre Sofil is a gay-friendly art house cinema with international screenings and events. The Metro Al Madina cinema also screens an interesting monthly series of films in the Hamra district.
Helem is the LGBTIQ community center, with services, art, cinema and social events and online news; until 2014 they published the bi-quarterly Barra Magazine, which still has a facebook page.
Yukunkun Club, still known for its international crowd and underground music scene, did have Gutter gay dance party nights, but like so much of the gay scene these ended in 2014.
TimeOut has two online guides to city restaurants and bars, places to stay, and sights to see - but again, many postings appear to be from two years ago.
Much more current with new articles, Jadaliyya provides a better understanding of Lebanese society and events taking place in neighboring countries. This independent ezine, produced by ASI (Arab Studies Institute), provides regional insights and critical analysis for readers in North America, Europe, the Middle East and beyond, in Arabic, French, English, and Turkish.
Mawaleh, the first and only gay magazine in neighboring Syria, was published 2012 - 2015 by Sami Hamwi "a Syrian gay guy," documenting the struggles of LGBTQ people in the face of that nation's descent into hell. An online archive survives, a testimony to the bravery of a man "...proud of who I am, proud of my political views, and proud of my sexuality."
See Proud Lebanon for information about their volunteers' work to help gay Syrian refugees in Beirut, often victims of torture and extortion by both sides in that country's civil war. Contributions are welcome, as even the smallest donations are helpful to those who've lost everything.
LebTour, the LGBT travel service and tour guide, founded in 2005, with adventure tours for gay men, once the best local resource of its kind, has closed and disappeared from the web.
For some local bars and other listings see our Gay Beirut maps & listings tab. Consider all gay guides to Beirut, even local ones, to out of date (send us any recent information you have). Clubs open and close, or move around the city frequently, and gay clubs prefer to keep a low profile online, relying instead on word of mouth. Advice from a friendly local is your best bet before venturing into the streets for the first time. Once you have an address, take a taxi for door-to-door service.
Article of Interest
Everyone is welcome: the only gay hangout in the Arab world - Saeed Kamali Dehghan - The Guardian, May 17, 2018