257m - In 1881, the Lebanese city of Tripoli, renowned for its ancestral history,...
A hub for coffee, creative minds and creativity, Kahwatee infuses Tripoli with positive energy
Tripoli’s café culture differs from Beirut’s mostly in that there are plenty of old cafes, where time seemingly has stood still, neither the décor or ambiance have changed much at for example Tal Al Oulya next to Chahine Hospital or Café Roumieh in Mina and plenty others.
Close to Azmi, Tripoli’s main commercial street, Kahwatee is in a residential area, known as Moutran, which boasts some beautiful buildings from the 1920s on to the 1960s. Surrounded by small shops and boutiques, Kahwatee stands out from a distance: There is first of all a tree made of metal and twisted blue plastic tubes as foliage and eye-catching welded ‘tree casts’ that work like protective armours for the orange trees along the pavement.
The façade has a glass front to the left where the café is. To its right, effectively in the middle, is Mini Kahwatee, which is nearing completion. On the right is the workshop, where the tools usually are in use as someone is working or welding – for a commission or another mosaic stone in the making of Kahwatee to be completed.
The fact that the café used to be a workshop defines the space. People come for a coffee and chat but also to create. University students come to work on projects here. This frequently infuses the place with a lovely buzz and verve.
“For the past three and a half years, I had this project Kahwatee in my head,” Ghassan Christo Saba explained. “I told myself I have two shops, and this shop was a workshop space and my brother’s workshop. For the history of our work in this place I decided to start this project.”
Saba’s late brother Mario was an accomplished artist. The visionary statue Tornado set up right before the seafront in Mina is his.
“I really wanted to do something for the country, this street, which is my life. I grew up here. I also wanted to do something for my city. I love Tripoli, and so I decided to open something that would be a magnet and attract positive people,” Saba, himself a trained dental technician turned art designer, said.
“I am trying to develop myself so why not try to get others around you to join in the journey? And I have a good workshop and there are many students and young people who have good hands but there is no space. There is talent but no space.”
For some time, Saba used to teach materials and technology, which aims to establish a link between engineers and men in the workshop at a local university. Though no longer teaching there, he still mentors about 15 students who come and make use of the workshop.
On the café’s walls are seven of his brother’s mixed media works – the rest of the furniture consists of unique bar stools, tables and chairs that have been welded out of scrap material or iron rods used on building sites. The steam hood is ‘Made in Kahwatee’ and so is most of the kitchen area. he bathrooms upstairs feature taps made of water can heads. Once fully equipped, the mezzanine will include a piano and besides coffee tables, a divan.
Throughout the day, the kitchen serves tea and coffee, as well as soft drinks and milk shakes, ice cream in summer. There are also various sandwiches and hot dogs on the menu. While laid-back during the day, the pace picks up later on and is busiest at night.
“Many people are happy to have found this space. We have no TV. No news; just music and once in a while good movies. Most come from Tripoli and many come from Beirut and other places. They are the young ones, students. This is how I like it. They are the future,” Saba underlined.
“I am in love with Tripoli, especially the old city. The city inspires me. I try to be like a virus and infect others, especially students with a good virus,” he added, well aware how many young people want to leave Lebanon.
Quizzed about the significance of art, Saba stated: “For me, art is a very different language. It’s a human language. I want to be human and I wish everyone to feel like a human being. And this is why I started to do art outside: for our area, this is a little weird what I do. When you put art outside and people pass by and see it. But with time, there is something that works here some people who came here and talked about my art, telling me ‘it’s weird but we feel comfortable, we can feel ourselves at ease here’.”