The Menshieh is owned by the City of Tartous (Al-Baladieh). Several entrepreneurs have rented and invested in the place from the 1940’s until 1983. Then, in their infinite wisdom and for some totally ridiculous reason, the Department of Antiquity and the City of Tartous conspired and closed it down. The Menshieh remained closed for 20 years and fell victim to neglect and idiocy. The Tartoussis were furious but who gives a shit.
Against the odds, a returning expatriate won a contract with the city and invested heavily in rehabilitating the premises. They tried to suffocate him with endless administrative red tape and crazy rules and regulations, but he stubbornly persisted. His triumph in the end was an event hailed by Tartoussis. Life has returned to the heart of the city. The Menshieh was reopened in 2003.
Once you walk in the main gate from the east, you immediately sense the special and unique Tartoussi atmosphere. To your left is an elevated section, almost always reserved for women who come alone or in small groups to enjoy an arghile. I’m not talking about traditionally clothed women, au contraire, they are the closest thing Tartous has to “Desperate Housewives”. They come to the Menshieh dressed for the kill, so it seems. The regular middle-aged men who frequent the Menshieh every evening sit on the right side (north) of the main gate also on an elevated section. From there, they have a commanding view of who’s getting in and who’s going out, a moment of utmost importance for all the women, young and not so young to show their stuff.
On the far south end of the Café is a secluded and open large space taken normally by chastely dressed women and/or those with kids. The families, meaning a father, a mother and children prefer to head toward the northwestern part of this large garden and take a table there. Those who come mainly to eat will find their comfortable place in the small joint to the left of the entrance. Although food is served outdoors, inside you will have the feeling that you are in an intimate place. The diehard card players (they play Morto in Tartous) would head straight to the right and enter a green glassed-in structure. This is where the ambiance of a real Tartoussi Café is felt with a twist. There’s a pool table for those who still refuse to go home although it’s past midnight.
Right in front of the main gate, there is a large pond of water. It is surrounded by tables on all sides, and this is where the young (and the out-of-touch-with-reality middle-aged sit). Indeed, this is the heart of the place, this is where all the action is. The Menshieh is mainly a haven for the young beauty queens who settle between the giant trees in flocks. Therefore it’s also the ideal hanging place for the young men with the abnormally high hormonal levels. This section is most likely the source and the target of all the lewd Bluetooth messages flying around between the trees.
If you’re from Tartous, you already know all of the above. The Menshieh has long been considered as an established social institution. If you’re new in town, or in for a short visit, give it a try. During the day, it’s a very nice place to settle with a newspaper or to grab something to eat. In the evenings and even if you don’t like crowds, there ought to be some secluded table that will suit you. If you go there on weekends, don’t ask for solitude though, the Menshieh is a place to socialize, the Tartoussi way.