Peter was very drunk. He swayed over to the teak bar at the Lone Star Cafe and ordered his fifth round of frozen margaritas. Above his head hung a pair of velvet sombreros and a full-size bull-horn. Someone had daubed graffiti on the wall: Hasta la Vista. His eyes caught mine. I nursed my Almaza Pilsener and wondered what he did in the war. 'Welcome,' he shouted above the din, 'welcome to Beirut.' There's something about a civil war that really gets a party going. John Travolta had barely started on Greased Lightnin' when a few score Lebanese, gold chains glinting in the spotlights, hit the dance floor. Battle-scarred Beirut may not be the most obvious place to open a Tex-Mex bar with shaker-wielding bartenders and a jukebox full of Grease tracks, but the Lone Star is just one of a new breed of late-night hangouts opening in the city. Henry J. Beans and the Blue Note jazz bar are here; even the Hard Rock is coming to town. In the heady atmosphere of post-war Beirut, the tequila is flowing once more. Lebanon once called itself the 'Switzerland of the Middle East.' In one day, you could water-ski in the morning and snow-ski in the afternoon. Casinos and cabarets, banks and bordellos attracted a generation of oilmen and oil sheikhs who liked to mix a little business with a lot of pleasure. In 1975, the good life ended abruptly. A tussle between Christians and Muslims for political dominance spiralled into a bitter tribal conflict between and among Lebanon's 17 religious groups. Syria imposed an uneasy peace in 1990, but 30,000 people had died along the way. Six years on, Beirut's residents have weaned themselves off the tranquilisers. Post-war Beirut has rediscovered adrenalin. Every day, it seemed, I saw another luxury apartment block rising from the rubble, or found a new radio station coming on air. In a British-style pub off Hamra Street, I met Sani Hibri, a Beirut-based banker with smart clothes and a smarter car. Many young Lebanese, he told me, could not grasp the idea of the future. 'During the War, people got used to the idea that they could die tomorrow,' he said. 'We still have this attitude. We spend all the money we have. When you're that close to death all the time, you really learn how to taste life.' In Christian-dominated East Beirut, glitzy shopping malls offer the latest Italian designer suits. Even the Casino du Liban, once a magnet for the international jet-set crowd, will soon be breaking open fresh packs of cards. Yet I was fascinated by the hole in the middle of Beirut. The pulsing central district, once filled with sculpted Ottoman facades and palm-fringed squares, has become an Everest of rubble. This was a no-man's land and scene of some of the heaviest fighting. Refugees still live among the ruins, laden laundry lines hanging where exterior walls once kept out the dust and heat of the city. Bullet holes scar each surface like acne. Soldere, the private company charged with restoring Beirut to its former glory, has taken over much of the site. Dumper trucks snarl to and fro, ditching the last remnants of the Good Times into the sea as landfill. Some of the buildings, such as the imposing Grand Serail, the Ottoman administrative headquarters, will be restored. Others, too damaged to rescue, have already been bulldozed. Until recently, historians believed that the Phoenicians founded Beirut during the late Iron Age, although its prominence began when the third-century Roman Law School spread the city's name all over the Mediterranean. Since the civil war, however, urban archaeologists have unearthed evidence of a Canaanite settlement several thousand years older, from the time Bronze Age settlers first farmed Mount Lebanon. I was astonished to see tourist groups clambering over on-going digs, but Soldere arranges twice-weekly tours of the excavation sites for anyone interested. International teams have unearthed so much pottery that visitors are free to fill their pockets with fragments. Yet violence and bloodshed pervades Beirut's ancient history as much as it destroyed the modern city. Earthquakes razed the capital seven times, and invaders left it awash with blood. A massive quake in AD 551 killed almost the entire population, while the 12th-century Crusaders massacred the inhabitants. Thousands more died during the Turkish famine of 1917. Even in nearby Ashrafieh, a leafy Christian quarter little damaged by the fighting, reminders of war are never far away. Lebanese troops armed with American-made M-16s, part of the new multi-ethnic, 53,000-strong national army, keep the peace at myriad road-blocks. Soviet-built T-72 tanks flying the Syrian flag stand ominously at major junctions. Visitors to Beirut are in little danger now. All but one of the war-time militias have been broken up and disarmed. Europeans, Arabs and Asians, are starting to return. Indeed, the government has predicted a tourist blitz and is beefing up the airport in preparation; by 1998, it will handle six million passengers a year with ease. Tourist facilities will take a while to recover, however. All the major hotels were plundered and destroyed during the war, none more so than the Holiday Inn, which was shelled by Christian forces from the nearby Hilton when Muslim gunmen made it their base.