Bliss Street

By Nabeel G. Ashkar

From the AUB Bulletin May 1995, Vol.37, No.2

The other day someone mentioned "Faysal's", and someone else corrected him, saying: "You mean Pizza Hut." The answer came back: "Yes, maybe, but to me it is still Faysal's. "

To many of us, Faysal's was an institution, not just a restaurant. There was a tram-stop; to the right of it was the Main Gate, and behind it College Hall with its clock tower - a symbol. To the left was Faysal's - another symbol. It is said that when someone once asked where AUB's Main Gate was, the answer came: "Facing Faysal's." If you wanted to see an AUB friend or colleague, all you had to do was sit at Faysal's - especially during registration time - and sooner or later that person would show up. Such was the reputation of the place.

Restaurants: Granted, there were several other restaurants along Bliss Street facing AUB. People had to eat, even then. There was Jarjoura, Sleit, Bikhazi; earlier there was Shamma'a. All these restaurants offered break- fast, lunch, and supper. Nearly all had their regular customers, some of whom went on a monthly basis. The patrons of these restaurants went there hopefully for a meal like they had at home. The menu was varied - Lebanese and other cuisines. There was some sort of graceful living, where one enjoyed a meal leisurely. Now it is fast food - grab a sandwich and a drink, and take your meal on the run.

One can think of smaller places, where one went for a sandwich or a breakfast of foule or hoummos, such as El Shami as well as Tanios&Artemos facing what used to be the IC gate.

There was this small shop (now a photocopying and stationery and accessories shop) owned by the Bikhazis, known as "Ni'el." Here you could eat the best of Arabic ice-cream (made with gum Arabic or dried apricots, the two favorite flavors at that time). This shop went later to Jubran and Bishara Bikhazi who ran it for years as a sandwich and refreshment shop.

Barber shops were a-plenty, to keep AUB and Ras Beirut people well groomed. To name a few - Elias Safar, Elias Nahas, Antoine Tabib, Jubran Azar, Salim Jurdak, the Bikhazi Brothers. The corner of Jeanne d'Arc Street, at Uncle Sam's, was a taxi stand where Nasri, Halim, Anis, Bou Farfar, Hasan, Zakkour, Aziz, and Sami, over a period of years, were part of the scene, serving the Ras Beirut community. Nassif Shuhavbar's little shop of miscellaneous items is gone. Hussein, who sold stamps and papers, is gone. Also gone meat shop of Ali Abboud bakerv is still there, improved and diversified.

Gone is the tramline which connected Furn-el-Cheback to Manara, passing along Bliss Street. The rails of the tramline are still there, however, buried under the asphalt road surface. It was too expensive to have the rails removed.

Uncle Sam's: Coming back to restaurants. When Shamma'a closed the restaurant, the place was taken over by a Mission who used it as a meeting house for students. Later, after World War II, Sami Khoury, who owned the locale, together with his friend Mlisbah Shatila, opened a little place thev called Uncle Sam's. With Sami the owner, what bet- ter name than "Sam"? The place grew with time and became, probablv, the first restaurant in Lebanon where you could have American food--hot dogs, hamburgers, doughnuts, American coffee, waffles, pancakes, apple pies, etc. Speaking of hot dogs, one day Sami was called to the police station on a charge that his restaurant was serving dog meat. Sami, being the selective type - choosing only the best for his restaurant - was surprised at this accusation.

"This is impossible," he said. The police insisted, saying that he even advertised it. What?? "Yes, you sell hot dogs." It took Sami some time to explain that this was the name of an Amer- ican sandwich of hot bread and sausages covered with mustard, and had nothing to do with dog's flesh. The Law finally accepted the explanation, and Uncle Sam's, to the delight of many, remained open.

Faysal's was a restaurant and soda fountain. Not only did it serve breakfast, lunch, and supper, but coffee, ice-cream, and soft drinks. Coca Cola concentrate was imported and served mixed with soda water long before bottled Coca Cola came to Lebanon. Faysal's was not only a place to eat, but also a place to meet - a meeting place for friends, AUB faculty, staff, students, the intelligentsia, journalists, as well as men and women of letters and the arts. Each group tried to stay at the same table or corner. They sipped coffee in the mornings, and other drinks later in the day.

One professor, who did not want to be seen partaking of alcoholic beverages, asked the waiter to bring him a whiskey in a tea-cup. The waiter, at the top of his voice, called the order: "One whiskey in a tea-cup for the professor." Fortunately, no one outside the restaurant heard.

Character: Bliss Street was a quiet street running along one side of the University- a street with its own character. Came the Lebanese war. With 16 years of fighting, Lebanon had to change; and so did Bliss Street. To many of us the values that we cherished so highly are gone. Today, it seems, people care more about price than about value. People, especially the young degeneration - sorry for the misprint - I mean generation, many of whom have not come to realize that there is something called law and order, or civic awareness, or courtesy. Is it their pareents' fault? Is it the war?

Looking at Bliss Street in the afternoon, you realize that the car-population has increased tremendously over the years, and Bliss Street has gone crazy. From the Medical Gate until you reach the Main Gate, traffic is impossible. Cars are double-parked, and sometimes triple-parked. Why? Because you want to buy refreshments and there is no parking lot, so what better place than crowding the street, which is not really a wide street.

Quo Vadis Bliss Street? Where are you going Bliss Street? It is difficult to tell. That it is more crowded is quite evident; but so is most of Beirut, or should I say most of Lebanon. In 1950 we could not visualize today's Bliss Street, so how can w e visualize it now for 2040? Let us hope that the residents of 2040 will have solved the problem and not be too critical.

See you then!!!!!

In the Days Gone By,

Ras Beirut Was Much Simpler

I was listening to Kamal George Rubeiz, the Mukhtar of Ras Beirut, talking about the days gone by, when Ras Beirut was a much simpler, and quieter place to live in. Some of the anecdotes were first-hand, and some he had heard from older people of Ras Beirut.

He reminded me of Hasan Takkoush. Hasan was famous for his sweets, (simsimiyyeh - made of sesame, and bundukiyyeh - made of hazel nuts). These delicacies - made at his house near the upper end of Jeanne d'Arc Street - were carried on a large tray and brought for sale at the AUB Main Gate. If you wanted quality delicacies, there was nothing like those made by Hasan.

Before 1907-1908, there used to be a horse-drawn coach which served as the main transportation medium between Ras Beirut and Downtown. I am told it was quite an event to take a ride on one of these coaches. It was like taking a trip abroad. Then progress came, and there was talk about the tramway to be installed in Beirut, of which a line was to pass through Bliss Street. When this reached the ears of the Bliss Street landowners, they were worried.

- "What is a tramway?", they asked.
- "It is a coach that runs on electricity."
- "Electricity? What about the horses?"
- "You don't need horses."
- "How do you mean you don't need horses?"
- "It is powered by electric cables."
- "Electric cables? What will happen if it goes out of control, and hits one of our houses, then hurts our women and children?"

Many sold their lands and houses and moved to Zokak el Hamra (it was not a street yet), where it was safer.

Turn-of-the-century Bliss Street. At right is the Medical Gate, with its onion-shaped gatehouse.


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