I met Jad Ballout last year in a Diageo event to select the best bartender in Beirut (he eventually went on to claim that title). I was very pleased to see him standing behind the bar at Central Station after Selim had insisted I need to try one of their cocktails after a long day at work. I had been meaning to visit Central Station before my trip, but never had the chance to, but I’m definitely glad I finally did.
My close friends will know I am not much of an alcohol drinker, and when I am, it’s taste and mixture I look for, not just potency. That’s why you probably won’t see me guzzling down a hastily prepared ungodly mixture in a plastic cup at an event, but delightfully sipping on a well-prepared cocktail that was made to do more than get me wasted.
Central Station is just that, it’s a place where it’s all about the cocktail. Special copper measuring cups, high-tech gizmos to “carbonate” grapes, fresh produce to top off your drink are the stuff you’ll find laying on the bother as the bartenders carefully mix two parts of this and that ingredient, with a premium alcohol base. It looks more like a posh lab than a bar, and a careful craft instead of haphazard, hasty theatrical pouring. And I like that, a lot.
I had a “In The Clouds Part II”, which is a special creation of Jad’s that includes an elixir he prepares with a “janerek” base (I have no idea what janerek means in English, but it’s that small, green fruit you see during spring time that has that earthy, sweet and sour feel that we all love to binge on this time of year). Needless to say, it was sublime, especially with the salt on the glass’ rim to add even more contrast to the flavors. It was like the very essence of the fruit was poured in with the right amount of alcohol, minus the pesky seeds and the need to chew. Of course, two janereks were served on the side as well, so don’t fret if you crave the original fruit too.
Another delight was the pom-pom cocktail, which is a pomegranate-based cocktail with some lime, basil and vodka, topped off with an actual leaf and a spoonful of pomegranate. Sublime.
But, Central Station isn’t your average Mar Mikhael hole-in-the-wall. It’s design, complete with the cast-iron train wheels above the long bar, and an exterior that reminds us of the day we had trains in Beirut (not that we’re old enough to remember, but still) is posh. Its electronic music is laid-back and chill, so don’t expect to be dancing, but more like unwinding after work or pre-drinking before the more intense party. The crowd is a bit on the older side and sophisticated in a non-hipstery way. The staff is very friendly, but good luck finding a spot if you haven’t booked or come early.
Their happy hour is from 6PM till 8PM, excluding the premium cocktails, and cocktails regular price ranges from 16,000-18,000LBP to 26,000LBP for the special elixirs.
All in all, I loved the place and I’d definitely recommend you try it out if you still haven’t. It’s a nice break in the norm of Mar Mikhael’s usually more nondescript places that lack a defined theme and feel, but definitely not a replacement for them. They’re preparing a new section as well, behind the bar nestled in an old revamped stone building that should be open in time for summer.