As city dwellers, we rarely think of escaping to the city. I
often joke that downtown Beirut is my second home, since I spend nearly as much
(and occasionally more) time there as
I do at our residence in the Beirut ‘burbs.
But when an opportunity arose to stay over at the Gefinor Rotana, a towering five-star hotel in the heart of Clemenceau and Hamra, I couldn’t
resist, even if it were midweek and work obligations loomed over us the next
|Stunning views of Hamra, Kantari and Ain Mreisseh from Gefinor Rotana|
14 hours is easily the briefest hotel stay I’ve ever been
privy to. You can probably reduce that duration to 6 waking hours, as the
balance were spent in slumber sprawled across a spacious king bed.
We arrived to our overnight hosts on a Thursday evening,
having driven no more than one mile westward from our workplaces in downtown Beirut. A valet steered the car to its nest for the night, while we hastened
into the lobby, past the security checkpoint and to the reception desk. There,
Paul and Majeda welcomed us to Lebanon and asked how our flight had
been. Judging by our disheveled states after a long workday (and workweek), I laughed
it off playfully to the tune of “driving in Lebanon is as exhausting as
|The hotel lobby|
Paul announced that we’d been bumped up from a Premium City
View Suite to the Presidential Suite, of which there are only two in the entire
hotel, both nestled on the top (17th) floor opposite the Royal
Suite. We had to collect our jaws from the floor as Paul led us to our humble
An expansive living room with two sofas, a dining table for
four, and an LCD TV were decorated with a generous spread of complimentary nibbles,
from fresh strawberries and 2013 Musar cuvée to premium kernels, luscious
mignardises, and a basket of fruit. From the living room, a sweeping balcony
exposes the cityscape with all its concrete character. Back inside, you can
explore the guest bathroom and a miniature kitchen equipped with hot plate,
microwave, stocked half-fridge, and plate- and silverware.
|The living room|
|2013 Musar cuvée with premium whole kernels|
|Fresh strawberries and mignardises|
But it’s the bedroom that beckons, leading to an adjunct
room of closets and a Jacuzzi-outfitted bathroom. Bath and shower toiletries
are exclusively L’Occitane, and there are double sinks for him and her apart
from a walk-in shower closet and a massive porcelain hot tub. Yep, that Musar
would prove indispensable indeed.
|The king bed|
|Double sinks and L'Occitane toiletries|
With just an hour and half to go before dinner, we didn’t have
much time to contemplate a method of attack, but it ended up going something
like this: wolf down the decadent delicacies (incidentally, chocolate-dipped
candied fig, dried apricot, and loukoum all resting on a slab of white chocolate
bark); uncork the bottle of red; and strip down to our birthday suits to
validate the worth of the Jacuzzi.
|A Jacuzzi animates the bathroom|
I apologize. In the interest of accurate
journalism, I had to give you the proper exposé.
Fisherman’s Catch Dinner
An hour later and we were plummeting 17 floors to the Olive
Garden restaurant (not to be confused with the American chain by the same
name), where copious amounts of seafood fleshed out the mains and trimmings of
a Fisherman’s Catch dinner (US$ 60 net).
The first thing that came to my attention is just how
bustling the restaurant is. The Gefinor Rotana is a reputable business hotel in
an area dense with universities, hospitals, corporations, financial institutions, and retail shops, so
it should come as no surprise that on any given night, the hotel is at or above
80% occupancy. Sure enough, the front desk confirmed that on that particular
Thursday night, 87% of the rooms were sold out. And it was equally reflective inside
the restaurant, as we could make out tongues in both the local dialect as well
as in Jordanian, Egyptian, and Gulf Arabian.
The food lineup is restricted to one wall along the kitchen,
beginning with basic salad elements like palmito and beetroot and graduating to
seafood-intensive salads (both savory and sweet) and eventually the hot
stuff. Grilled prawns, boiled lobsters, and fried fish are prepared around the
clock, which means you might find yourself waiting for your choice item to
materialize. But there are hot dishes comprising a seafood pasta bake, shrimp
fajita, steamed veggies, and baked fish which you can peck at as you stall for
|And these are the just the appetizers!|
|Lobster and prawns|
Dessert straddles both the Oriental and Occidental,
featuring the likes of osmallieh and 7alewet el jeben next to gateau macaron, choux à la crème, and banana coins in caramel soup. But the sweets ushering
forth from the kitchen are in constant flux, so if you see something you like,
be sure to stock up on it. “While supplies last” is the name of the game here.
|The dessert display at dinner|
Our evening ended on a musical note as a female singer belted out tunes in the adjacent Moodz Lounge & Bar.
Dawn of a New Day
You may be in the thick of Hamra, but from the 17th
floor, all you feel is ultimate serenity. There’s not a peep of street noise to
jolt you, and quite happily it’s lonely on top.
We packed up our little belongings (how much can you tote
for a 14-hour stay?) and descended to the 14th floor, where the Club
Rotana Lounge peers out over the majesty of the Mediterranean.
isn’t a better view to be had than from here, where comfy chairs and a collection
of print media can preoccupy you for hours. A coffee machine, Dilmah tea bags, a
tray of mini muffins, and three large vases layered with meringue form the
morning alimentary regime, but I’m told in the afternoon, the options are more
|Behold the Mediterranean from the Club Rotana Lounge on floor 14|
|Club Rotana Lounge|
Back down at the Olive Garden restaurant and terrace, the
scene had transformed to breakfast. Half a dozen dispensers of cereal kick-start
the queue, followed by fresh, canned, dried and candied fruit (there’s lychee!); jams;
finger pizzas; Danish pastries; and croissants. For the more ravenous of
appetites, order eggs à la minute and garnish with sautéed mushrooms and bacon.
|For the serial cereal consumer!|
|Canned, fresh, dried, and candied fruits|
|Viennoiserie -- the zaatar croissants are unparalleled!|
Deli cold cuts along with an army of cheeses—from halloumi
to Babybel—inhabit the last counter, as do labneh (strained yogurt),
olives, tomato wedges, cucumber spears, zaatar, sumac and cumin. Almost every
palate will be tickled, although I’d have loved to see a more extensive suite
of sweets: matter like pancakes, waffles, muffins, and homemade loaf cakes
|Deli cold cuts, cheese, and some crudites|
There is fresh squeezed orange and carrot juices, but rather
than canned pineapple rings, wouldn’t the fresh counterpart have been an enviable
touch? The St. Dalfour individually-portioned jars of jam on each table are classy—kudos to Rotana for not subjecting us to the sugar-injected junk (I’ll refrain from
naming the local culprits).
As quickly as it’d begun, it ended, and we were rather miffed
to have it wrap up so swiftly. But alas, it was still a weekday, and professional
That punctuated euphoria now seems part of a hazy distant
reality, even though as I'm writing this, it’s been a mere 12 hours since we traded our room keys
for the car keys. It’s almost as if I dreamt up the whole thing, from the grandeur
of the Presidential Suite to the far-reaching vistas of the sea; from the
whole-wheat zaatar croissant to the inverted tabbouleh chockfull of shrimp.
In my six years of life in Lebanon, I must have walked past
the Gefinor Rotana a hundred times. On each occasion, I’d squint curiously inside,
unaware of the world enclosed beyond those glass sliding doors.
I’ll smile fondly and wistfully, recalling that blink in time to crown all
blinks in time when we fled the city for the city.
And no doubt it will forever grace the halls of my memory.
A Classic City View Room starts at $120 and a Premium Sea View Room at $136 with the super saver specials. For more details on rates, rooms, and bookings, visit this link.
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