186m - As Beirut’s most sought after hotel, the Phoenicia constantly strives...
Who wants to swim in a seafront hotel bay named after a legendary hero who slew (that's past tense for slay in case you were wondering) a dragon? Yup. Thought so.
Where do we begin with this one? You cannot possibly understand the allure or significance of swimming/partying at the Saint George marina without understanding its history. So here goes. A little history lesson for you history buffs out there..all two of you. Built in 1932, this French colonial hotel has seen more turmoil than my grandmother’s heart when I decline her fifth serving of “warak inab min idaya” (stuffed grape leaves “from her hands”). That’s’ a lot. Trust me. And the saga continues today as it remains one of the most controversial structures in town. Saint-George has borne witness to one remarkable Lebanese era after another and stood tall through them all.
During the French Mandate, local socialites mingled with French officers on Saint-George’s decks. Later on, the hotel became the IT destination of Lebanon and the region’s glitterati. Oozing an irresistible combination of glamour, mystery and mischief, it became the stylish backdrop to the comings and goings of film stars, royalty, millionaire businessmen, politicians, journalists and spies. Its celebrated terrace overlooking St. Georges’ Bay was the leading social rendez-vous point of pre-war Beirut. Its pool flaunted the best displays of bikinis and sun-kissed bodies in the Middle East. Its bar provided the best rumor mill for correspondents covering political upheavals in the Arab world.
During Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, the hotel was severely damaged. Militias seized the building along with other Downtown high-rises and proceeded to blast each other in what was known as the “War of the Hotels”. Later, Saint George’s burnt-out shell was occupied by Syrian troops attempting to pacify the warring Lebanese factions. Today, the structure is covered with a banner in protest of a perceived corporate attack aimed at destroying the bay and its Lebanese heritage in the process. In short, love it or hate it, you cannot ignore Saint George. So go ahead. Take a swim with the ghosts of the past and listen carefully: the wind may blow Saint George’s story in your ear.