Gay Beirut: travel guide to the best gay bars, hotels and hammams
Lebanon is one of the most liberal, progressive and gay friendly places in the Arab world. This is saying a lot for a country where homosexuality is still a crime. However, by comparison to its Arab neighbours, Beirut has the best (albeit quite underground) gay scene, including one of the largest gay clubs in the Middle East called POSH.
We visited Beirut from Cyprus to celebrate Stefan's birthday over a long weekend and absolutely loved the food, the people and of course the many gay parties. This is our gay guide to Beirut featuring the best gay bars and clubs, events, gay friendly hotels and best things to do.
A word of warning to gay travellers to Lebanon, although the country is more progressive than places like Iran, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it is still a largely Islamic influenced country where homosexuality remains illegal. Therefore, be careful with public displays of affection and avoid posting anything online that is LGBTQ related before/during your trip to prevent any problems at the airport immigration. Also, avoid having an Israeli stamp in your passport as Lebanon has an outright ban on anything related to Israel/Israelis. Be sure to check out our article about gay life in Lebanon for more practical safety tips.
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Gay bars in Beirut
As homosexuality is still illegal in Lebanon, places are careful not to advertise themselves as being openly “gay bars“, preferring “gay friendly” instead, in order to prevent having any problems with the police. These are the main gay friendly bars in Beirut that are thriving despite the anti-gay laws:
- Bardo: this is one of the oldest and famous gay bars of Beirut. It is popular with twinks (and their fans) especially at the “Powerpuff Queens” party every Thursday. Generally it doesn't get busy until after 11pm. But if you come before, it's a lot quieter, which makes it great for a few cocktails, especially during the week when they have 2 for 1 happy hour offers. Bardo is open every day until 2am and is located in downtown Beirut on Mexico Street, just off Hamra Street.
- Kahwet Al Franj: the twinks of Beirut go to Bardo and the older gay boys come to Franj. For us this was our favourite gay hangout in Beirut. We found it to be so welcoming and quickly made friends here. It's more a restobar where you come to drink coffee, play cards with your friends and smoke shisha. They also have some of the best food we've tried in Beirut, especially the kebbeh pumpkin. Franj is open until 2am everyday and is located at Corniche Al Naher in the Bourj Hammoud (Armenian quarter).
- Madame Om: this is a cosy gay friendly resto/bar named after the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum. It's a popular spot for cocktails and was the base for Beirut Pride 2018 (before the police cancelled it). Madame Om is open every until 2am and is located at Rue Pasteur, Gemmayze.
- Cafe Younes: this is a Bohemian gay friendly cafe in the heart of Beirut just off Hamra Street, perfect for people watching. They do excellent coffee, especially Lebanese coffee infused with Cardamon. Cafe Younes is open every day until early evening and is located on Nehmeh Jafet Street near where it meet Hamra Street.
- Cloud 59 beach bar: Cloud 59 is a lesbian owned beach bar/restaurant located in Tyre, a seaside resort town around 1 hour drive south from Beirut. Although it's outside the capital city, we include it because this is one of the most popular gay friendly beaches in Lebanon where the Beirut gay boys like to hang out on weekends.
Gay clubs in Beirut
There are a handful of gay clubs in Beirut, the main one of course is POSH:
- POSH: gorgeous rooftop club located in Bourj Hammoud (Armenian quarter). It's not only the largest gay club in Beirut, but also the largest from all the Arab countries. On Fridays and Sundays it has mainly Arabic music. Saturday is the big night with both Arabic and Western pop music. Security is extremely strict here because they are careful not to get into trouble with the police. Therefore use of phones are not allowed and a strict “no kissing” policy is enforced! At the end of the night when leaving POSH, make sure you get a wristband for discounted entry on the gay after party, which is usually Ego. POSH club is located at Bourj Hammoud Seaside Road behind Gallery Vanlian and is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11pm till late.
- Ego party at Projekt Beirut: this is one of the best gay after-parties in Beirut. Most people go to POSH first, then head here at around 3am and party into the early hours. It's a fun club with mainly electro and house music. Overall however, we found the crowd at Ego to be less friendly than at POSH. Ego is located at Projekt Jal El Dib, Seaside Road and is open on Friday and Saturday evening until 6am.
- B018: (pronounced B dix-huit) is one of the most legendary clubs of Beirut that prevailed during the Civil War years in a chalet where customers had to use the code “B 018” to enter (named after the chalet's location 18 km north of Beirut). Today B018 is located at a different location, it has retained the same name. Officially B018 is a straight club, but it attracts a large LGBTQ crowd. B018 is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from late until 8am the next morning.
Gay events in Beirut
Given the lack of legal protection for the gay community in Lebanon, there is nonetheless a handful of active LGBTQ organisations, which also host several events throughout the year. Sadly the larger they get, the more likely they are to receive police harassment:
- Beirut Pride: Lebanon was the first country in the Arab world to plan a Pride event in 2017. For the most part, it went ahead, but police harassment and Islamic violence meant that most of it was stopped. In 2018, the founder, Hadi Damien was arrested and only released on condition that he agreed to cancel it.
- Helem Community Center: Helem was the first LGBTQ organisation in Lebanon, which has been going strong since 2004. Every week they organise several events for the gay community like a weekly lunch, storytelling night, movie night and more.
- NEDWA: this is an annual conference for promoting solidarity and intersectionality organised by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE). However, as with Beirut Pride, it also receives its share of pressure from the Lebanese security officials.
Gay hammams in Beirut
As homosexuality is technically illegal in Lebanon, you will be hard pressed to find an official gay sauna in Beirut, particularly since the raid of the Hammam Al–Agha in 2014 when 36 people were arrested.
There are however Hammams were you may find discreet cruising like: “Al Bakawat” (the name for the re opened Al-Agha) and “Shahrazad” in the Al Massaken Street in Burj Hammoud but take care as they don't have the best reviews.
Gay friendly hotels in Beirut
As a rule of thumb, the large international hotel brands are likely to be gay friendly, wherever they are in the world because they usually abide by a strict set of international standards. Despite this, we strongly advise emailing/calling ahead first to double check they are ok to host gay travellers and will let you book a double bed.
These are the gay friendly hotels we stayed in during our trip in Lebanon which were aware that we are a gay couple and welcomed us:
Le Vendôme Beirut: beautiful central boutique hotel
We stayed at Le Vendôme as a birthday treat splurge for Stefan. It's absolutely gorgeous and the perfect choice for couples. It's located right by the beachfront on the Corniche. We definitely recommend splashing out on a room with sea view. For us, the icing on the cake was the staff. They are extremely friendly, helpful and very welcoming.
This is also an excellent base to visit the Pigeon Rocks in the nearby Raouche neighbourhood and also for a stroll in the Zaitunay Bay marina, both of which are walking distance away.
Rooms at Le Vendôme start from $295. You can check prices, availability and read more about it here.
Phoenicia Hotel: 5* luxury hotel
The Phoenicia is one of the best 5* luxury hotels of Beirut. It's the sister hotel of the Phoenicia, and you can use the facilities of one if staying at the other. The Phoenicia has an excellent spa, indoor pool, outdoor pool and large fitness to burn off all the kanafeh calories. The Phoenicia also has a handful of high end restaurants and bars which are worth visiting even if you're not staying here.
The Phoenicia welcomes LGBTQ travellers and even made a point of it by including a lesbian moment in their “Define Love” campaign video for Valentine's Day (watch video below from 0:54 seconds).
Rooms at the Phoenicia hotel start from $325. You can check prices, availability and read more about it here.
Casi Cielo Bed and Breakfast: gay owned guesthouse in the mountains
Casi Cielo is a gay owned guesthouse located in Lassa, around 1 hour drive from downtown Beirut. It's the perfect place to stay to get a feel for the Mount Lebanon mountain area and also to get a flavour of local life. The Lebanese gay couple who own it are not only extremely personable, they also offer fun group activities like cooking classes, biking and hiking.
Things to do in Beirut
It's all about the delicious food here. The Lebanese cuisine is world famous for good reason. Along with the delicious different culinary discoveries, there are of course many not-to-miss touristic highlights in Beirut:
- Hamra Street: the famous artery of Beirut with tight narrow roads lined with cafes and shops. It's always buzzing with life here, which makes it the perfect place for people watching at one of the cool cafes, with shisha to hand.
- Gustav Innocation Sucree: this is one of the most highly rated pastry shops in Lebanon, which you need to check out. It's extremely gay friendly and another popular gem for the LGBTQ community in Beirut – you'll see lots of rainbow cakes on offer here. Their most famous is the pomegranate tart and various chocolate cake varieties. Leave the calorie counter at home and come check out Gustav!
- The Roof at The Four Seasons: this is one of the best rooftop bars in Beirut. We celebrated Stefan's birthday here with a sunset cocktail overlooking the Mediterranean followed by a romantic dinner in the restaurant. Check it out on Wednesday evenings when they have live music.
- Pigeon Rocks of Raouche: this is one of the iconic landscape images of Beirut located in the Raouche neighbourhood by the sea. They are 2 rock formations, which according to Ancient Greek mythology, are the remains of the sea monster that Perseus killed to save Andromeda. The sea monster is a rock because Perseus used Medusa’s head on the monster to turn it into stone. Best time to see it in all its glory is at sunset.
- Corniche: the Corniche is a 4.8 km (3 miles) seaside promenade lined with palm trees with both sea and mountain views. We love coming here for morning runs and then stopping at one of the coffee shops or restaurants.
- Zaituna Bay Marina: this is Beirut's tranquil marina which is lined with lots of bars, cafes and restaurants. It's a cool spot to come for a drink and brief respite from the hectic traffic of the big city.
- Basterma Mano: our favourite place in Beirut for shawarma. They are really good, especially the “Basterma pastrami” or “soujouk” spicy sausage shawarma. Just go easy on the heavier meats otherwise you'll have heavy garlicky burps/breathe all night! Basterma Mano is located in Bourj Hammoud (the Armenian Quarter) of Beirut.
- L'abeille d'or: this is a famous chain cafe/bakery in Lebanon, which means “Golden Bee” in French. We love it because they do one of the best “kanafeh” dishes we've tried. Kanafeh is a Lebanese breakfast dish containing melted cheese and semolina dough that has been soaked in syrup, and served on Lebanese bread.
- Other culinary highlights: as we said, this is the city to go food crazy! Other dishes we recommend looking out for include “manoushe” (a cheese pie breakfast dish), “foul” (fava bean based breakfast dish), “fatteh” (chickpeas, yoghurt and bread based dish), “tabbouleh” (salad with parsley, tomatoes, onions, cracked wheat, lemon and olive oil) and “fattoush” (salad with pomegranate molasses).
Travel recommendations for gay travellers to Lebanon
Airport immigration is bad so leave plenty of time for it: when leaving Lebanon, come to the airport at least 4 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. Beirut International Airport has one of the most disorganised and slowest immigration controls we've ever experienced. The queues are really long and can take around 1-2 hours.
Apply for visa before booking your trip: although you can probably get your Lebanese tourist visa for free on arrival, we advise getting it before you book your flights to be on the safe side. The Lebanese General Security at the airport has a large database of “wanted” names. If your name is similar or matches one of these names, then you will be refused entry. It may help by showing a copy of your birth certificate showing your mother's maiden name, but if you've already applied for your tourist visa, then this will minimise the chances of being refused entry.
A VPN may be worth getting: whilst websites in Lebanon are not monitored as much as in other Arab countries, it is still pays to be on the safe side and use a VPN to browse anonymously. We used ExpressVPN on our trip which is reliable and very easy to use.
Travel insurance: should you be involved in an accident, miss your flight or have any other issue during your trip, you'll want to ensure you are covered. We cannot stress the importance of getting adequate travel insurance for any trip. We use World Nomads because they have useful practical tips for LGBTQ travellers and have always been a breeze to use. You can also compare the best quotes for travel insurance here.
Buy a SIM card: we strongly advise getting a SIM card on arrival from the CityFone shop in Beirut airport on the right of the Arrivals hall. Once connected, check out our guide about the best ways to get from Beirut airport to the city centre.
Flights: to find our flights to Beirut, we used Skyscanner, which is easy to navigate and also searches for the cheapest flights for any given month.
Hotels: when we plan a holiday, we start with Tripadvisor to research the best places to stay as well as the best activities to do. Alongside this we use Booking.com to locate and book the best deals. But as mentioned above, definitely call/email the hotel before booking to ensure they're ok with two men sharing a bed.