Saifi Institute for Arabic Language is a member of the Saifi Gardens community: a hostel, café and rooftop bar housed in a pair of buildings – one ancient and traditional and the other a more typical Beiruti construct – and enveloped by beautiful gardens and public spaces. Lebanese and foreigners, students and workers, tourists and people visiting family are just some of the types of people you will meet at Saifi. It is a lively, affordable and truly mixed place – an oases in the heart of Beirut where you will make friends, begin to discover Lebanon and always find a welcoming face when you come back.
In the eloquent words of Chips, a long-time resident:
You reach it via a narrow, steepish alley which steps down from Pasteur Street towards the bus station below via some terraced garden beds. Its heart is the Cafe em Nazih on the ground floor; it mirrors veranda areas two floors above me. A quarter circle perhaps six or seven metres in radius, a bar and another room behind it, tiled floors, high ceiling. A kitchen buried behind the bar. Fans but a fuel stove for colder times of year. Inside, scattered tables and chairs, a couple of low sofas. An outdoor area: sitting and a cooking including a barbeque and a saj—a gas fired round metal dome for cooking bread and mana2eesh. Did I say the kitchen was "buried"? Not so. It is the focus of all here at Cafe Em Nazih: it's where the Saifi draws its breath in the morning.
The Saifi itself is an improbable set up. Part boarding house, part Arabic language school, part bar and restaurant, part hangout for people who share its enthusiasms, part genealogical construct—just about the entire family is involved. Its staff and owners passionate about Arabic culture, language and music.
And it is all Lebanese cooking, a strong part of the ethos of the Saifi. It is fresh, sourced from the Lebanese countryside for the most part—and that in turn is part of the ideology of food here: it is supremely local, always hand prepared with care that is a million miles from fast food.