|Making our way to Al Falamanki|
Even before landing in Beirut a couple of weeks ago, my friend Sana Tawileh promised to take me to a place she was in no doubt I would love. As it turned out, she was right.
We arranged to get together on Sunday when Sana led me down a little street in east Beirut’s Sodeco area. “We’re making our way to Al Falamanki,” she explained.
Al Falamanki stems from “falamank” in Arabic, which specifically refers to antique diamond jewelry.
Credit to Sana for introducing me to this unique café-restaurant sparkler. I was blown away from my first step in.
|Seating under an olive tree|
|It's like stepping inside either of my two grannies' homes|
We enjoyed an exceptional lunch of hummus balila, fattoush salad, makanek sausages, grilled halloumi cheese with fig jam and other yummy house specialties. But this isn’t a food review. It’s rather a glance at a place I thought was so original and ingenious.
Of course, I was itching to get out my little digital camera and start clicking, but the well-mannered waiters said I had to get permission first and gave me a number to call.
I phoned in the following week. I was impressed by the speed and efficiency of the reply: I was welcome to return in my own time to take pictures and blog about Al Falamanki at Mich Café. So I headed back the next Sunday for a late morning coffee before customers started flocking in.
Name branding (or the marketing practice of creating a distinguished presence on the market) led to the café-restaurant being named after Khalil Al Falamanki, a globetrotter from days of yore. His story, pictures and possessions are displayed all over the eatery.
|Khalil with Grace Kelly and Clark Gable|
|Khalil's many tarabeesh|
|Khalil's cameras and clocks|
|Cigarette cases that take you back half a century at least|
His only son, Anis, recounts Khalil’s story on the menu:
|In English and...|
At the peak of his wrestling career, an injury forced Khalil into early retirement from the ring. Egyptian business tycoon Tarek Fakhry swiftly enlisted him as his PA and bodyguard. The association went from strength to strength, ending no fewer than 12 years later on Fakhry’s death in 1952.
Khalil roamed the globe with Fakhry during the 12 years. In January 1946, they attended the opening of Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The following year, Fakhry took Khalil with him on a tour of Europe, where he introduced him to several worldwide celebrities.
They frequently stopped over in Egypt to see King Farouk and often visited business partners in California where they would bump into the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne and Grace Kelly.
After Fakhry’s death in 1952, Khalil managed to maintain and even build on the contacts he developed over the past decade.
The 1956 birth of son Anis was a source of pride and joy for Khalil. His two other joys were music and politics. Khalil passed away in 1982.
Soon after, I discovered the many facets of the father I didn’t get to know well enough because of his travels. I started collecting the bits and pieces he left behind, such as his pictures with famous people, his hunting rifles, his backgammon tables, his many ouds and his inseparable tarabeesh. I decided to put them all under one roof in a place that would celebrate his love of food and music -- a place that would recognize and celebrate his rich life. This place is Al Falamanki.
|Preparing to bake tannour bread in a traditional wood oven|
|The wall of mirrors|
|Vintage items on the shelves|
|The women's restroom|
Entertainment is card games or backgammon. The Sunday morning I was there clicking at my camera at an off-peak hour, a few couples were enjoying sheesha with breakfast and coffee. The voice of Fairouz and other old melodies blended with the chirping birds, Sunday morning church bells and the noon call to prayer from the nearby mosque.
|Adam with "Wishes Come True" volunteers Celine and Rudy|
|Lillian and I had Sunday morning coffee|
|Rocca salad, tabbouleh and hindbeh|
|Fool and hummus balila, like I had with Sana|
After going around Al Falamanki one more time, to make sure I had photographed everything, we went out through the café-restaurant’s front arch, draped in a wisteria tree that I hadn’t seen since my days in London. But it wasn’t in bloom yet.
|Leaving through Al Falamanki's front arch, draped in wisteria|
You can see Al Falamanki for yourself in these pictures.