If your Friday night is torn between a hopping club or a relaxing café, a tourist attraction or baladi getaway, an ideal solution is hidden secretly in one of the most popular districts of Cairo.

Located behind El Hussein Mosque in Khan El Khalili, El Drawesh is a vintage ahwa hosting local singers that draw large crowds on weekend nights. A band of oud, tambourine, drum, and keyboard provides traditional and new folk tunes with hip allure. This 50-year-old establishment is named after acclaimed Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwesh and is owned by Saed Mohamed Yousef.

When entering El Drawesh it feels like entering a private living space, and the experience is very personal. It’s a small area with roughly 60 seats. During show hours, the café is gender-segregated to the exception of couples occasionally seated in the men’s section. The front row and centre are reserved for the business elite of Khan El Khalili. Locals chit-chat intimately as friends and family, and sharing shisha and jokes over warm drinks. Attendees regularly shake, snap their fingers and sing along in their chairs. Singers include Magda and Hussein El Souti.

This home-grown ahwa is proud of its cairo360users, as evidenced by its interior. It is inlayed with beige ceramics, modelling the concept of huge sandstone walls. Brown arch frames where windows once existed and brown-painted wood trimmings lace the ceiling. El Drawesh’s logo is overlaid in the top corner of huge art prints by Kamil Aslanger, a respected Turkish painter of traditional Arab/Orientalist scenes. These prints depicting ahwas and musicians support the intended atmosphere.

Tips for the band are encouraged, preferably 20LE or more, but never less than 10LE. Contributing audience members are thanked publicly by microphone. Ladies, come prepared with polished belly dancing skills. Females from the audience, children and adults, regularly take stage to belly dance with the band and you are invited to dance. It’s all in good fun; so keep in mind the conservative environment. Foreigners are welcomed warmly, but uncommon. Locals are very taken by this ahwa, so consider visiting in small groups. Photography is strictly forbidden as announced on four Arabic-only notices on the café’s central pillar.

Café El Drawesh serves shisha and warm drinks only; coffee costs12LE and tea costs 10LE. A kiosk provides snacks at the front door. Music nights are held every Thursday and Friday after 8PM; Friday is the best night to attend.