My day started with swimming a few laps in one pool and ended with hitting a few nightcaps around another. Such is the pace in Lebanon, that I managed to fit in some exercise, a potential-work meeting, two interviews, an art exhibition opening and a pool bar opening all in one day - that's all thanks to four trips by car and three by taxi; and with the addition of three wardrobe changes! Not bad for a small-city gal from Bloemfontein.
It's the two interviews that resulted in the poolside cocktails last night. I can only blame Aishti for making me change my plans for last night; I was perfectly happy to get into bed nice and early to sleep off the sore throat that's creeping up. But such is the life of a freelance lifestyle journalist. You get called at 12:15 to be asked if you can conduct two interviews that afternoon. Of course you say yes - they're taking place at the Phoenicia Hotel after all, and you did hear the words 'pool' and 'new bar' being mentioned - words ingrained in your mentality as yes words. So you ditch the black pants you were going to wear to your 2pm meeting, put on a summer dress, razor your legs, pack in the sunglasses, and pray that no one notices that you haven't had time to research either of the two interviewees!
I arrive at the Phoenicia, across the road from the sea, by taxi - that had to be searched for car bombs before approaching the entrance, as it's right across the road from where Hariri's car was bombed five years ago. One doorman opens my car door; another opens the hotel door. I proceed up the extremely wide red-carpet stairs (I'm feeling very Sex and the City right now) and make my way to the new Amethyste bar, set around the iconic Phoenicia pool. The apparently once-dead pool space has been transformed into an Arabian paradise, complete with potted herbs and gardenias for scent, silver hanging charms that tickle each other for sound, massive daybeds and swings from which to feel the sun, splashes of purple (set around the fact that Lebanon is where the colour purple comes from) and 500 candles creating beauitiful images, and then of course the tasty cocktails on offer at the bar.
My welcome taste came in the form of an Amethyste Bellini, created by one of the world's top cocktail makers, Grant Collins, an Ozzie who flies around the world to open some of the planet's hottest bars. This Champagne cocktail includes a secret five-spice mix which really got my tastebuds dancing during my interview with the talented drinks maker who creates anything from alcohol-induced candyfloss and sorbet, to liquid nitrogen creations that will have your tongue tingling as you breathe out smoke from your nose! Overlooking the St George yacht club, while waiters trotted around offering us bite-size snacks, and mermaids splashed around in the pool, it really felt less like an interview and more like a flash-forward into what heaven might be like for me one day.
While interviewing Inge Moore and Summer Williams from London's Hirsch Bedner Associates, who created the look of the new space, we walked around the area, checking out the loungy spaces, the arguiele spaces, the chill-out spaces - all while being careful not to stand in the way of the sun of those hot Lebanese men and women showing off their summer-ready bodies on the daybeds.
Michelle Richani, in charge of the hotel's marketing and communications and Najib Salha, the owner of the hotel, invited me to join the official opening later. And here I was thinking I was already at the opening, with all the fanfare and free booze and snacks on offer! They insisted I come, and bring my friends. So I called designer cousin. She was in. So too was smiley cousin. Back home, a quick change of clothes, overlay of make-up, and respray of perfume and we were ready to join Lebanon's hot set at the open-air pool. (In between, we attended the opening of one of the Syrian artist's I'd interviewed last month, Ammar Al Beik.)
The Amethyste had transformed itself in the time that I'd been changing my shoes and hairstyle. It was now washed in soft purple light, the candles adding to the sparkle of the exotic Arabian night. This time we were ushered in with a Beirut Iced Tea - like juice at first (with a Coca-Cola foam on top) but a killer closer to the end. Careful not to break any of the sticks sauntering past us (these being the 'bombshell' babes in contour-fitting, barely-ass-covering dresses and not the stilt walkers wearing white clothes that covered fairy lights on their bodies) and trying hard to dodge the older ladies with wildly teased and sprayed hairdos taking away attention from their over-painted faces, we made it to the saj just in time to get a labneh and zaatar manoush directly off the dome. An attempt at the arguile proved less successful, with all three of us non-smokers calling it quits after two puffs, and heading instead to the live food station, where we grabbed any tiny piece of meat and chicken coming off the stove and being dropped into see-through containers with a spicy tomato sauce. The hot sauce called for a raspberry margharita, refreshingly appealing for the warm Beirut night and the best thing to drink before heading to the dessert station: chocolate fountain, fruit, ice cream and various toppings, marshmallows...
Such over indulgence would of course lead us to the daybeds, choosing one with great not-so-obvious, people-watching views and the best sight of the pool, where suddenly there appeared four big plastic balloons with acrobatic performers inside, playing around with silver confetti over the very blue water. To top it all off, DJ Jose Padilla from Cafe del Mar in Ibiza was the one spinning the tunes.
A good way to ease myself into Lebanon's night life? I think so!