When we left Beirut in 2007, Downtown was something of a mess. For starters, progress on architectural developments basically halted with the 2005 Hariri assassination. It changed everything. Downtown developments halted or made depressingly little progress in the aftermath. Then, in December 2006, Hezbollah set up camp in the heart of downtown, threatening to overthrow the government. For obvious reasons, their presence hurt real estate investment, not to mention the few restaurants and shops that had opened in the area. The central district became a ghost town. No one wanted to be there. Downtown looked and felt like a failed experiment.
During those years, Matthew and I deliberately chose downtown restaurants for our dates. They were quiet, parking was ample, and we usually had the place to ourselves. I felt an odd mix of courage and anxiety going to the edge of enemy territory to eat, drink, and laugh. I felt like I was calling a bluff.
Hezbollah eventually left and the luxury-shopping, restaurant-going crowds returned. Perhaps they brought the builders, developers, and investors with them, or maybe it was the other way around.
These days, this is what you'll find Downtown. Cranes, construction, completed structures and bustling shops and restaurants. The city rising.