To a visitor seeing Beirut for the fist time since the darkest days of the war last summer, the city's return to a semblance of normal life is startling and a bit unnerving.

On my first night in town, I went to dinner with a colleague. Well after dark we drove, alone, out of Moslem West Beirut, through the shattered downtown area and over to the Christian side, to an elegant and crowded French restaurant.

When I was here last, in July, no one made that crossing, night or day, and there were hardly any restaurants open anyway. Dining out in West Beirut in those days, when the city was without electricity, water or gasoline, usually meant spooky walk through blacked-out, deserted streets to the lamb house that stayed open throughout the war, serving takeout meals to roving gunmen.

Now the Ministry of Tourism is back in business, publishing bulletins about the restaurants and hotels that are reopening in quick succession, including a few that have brought the first signs of renewed life to the old luxury hotel district on the waterfront.

On the old Damascus road dividing Moslem and Christian suburbs, which I last crossed in a courch, on the run with Palestinian guerrillas, a few shops have reopened and residents have emerged from the rubble to stroll about unmolested.