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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Smart Lounge: Homely Cyber Cafe in Heliopolis
With an abundance of overcrowded restaurants and cafés in Cairo, it's about time the teens of the city were offered something a little different. First opened by college students, Smart Lounge is aimed at fulfilling both the academic and recreational needs of a younger crowd. As a result, the technologically inspired venue is an occupational mash-up of a copy centre, cafe, snack stand and 'cyber café' – where one can indulge in a few hours of video games.
Visible from the outside by brightly lit signage, Smart Lounge occupies a spacious ground floor apartment complete with tiled floors and garish red walls; the interior is far from fancy, however a certain charm turns it into a second home for many of their regular customers.
Services provided include black and white printing (1LE per page), plastic folders (1LE or 3LE), scanning (1LE per page), photocopying (0.20LE per page), Playstation (25LE single player or 30LE multiplayer per hour), Xbox (30LE per hour), shisha (15LE), snacks (2LE-8LE), and beverages (4LE-8LE). With the exception of beverages and shisha, everything is self-service and customers are treated more like house guests than patrons. However, the cashier's desk at the entrance of the shop serves as a subtle reminder of their business status.
The snack and beverage concession stand serves a wide variety of coffee and tea packets, chocolates, snack cakes, instant noodles, chips, cookies, soft drinks, juice boxes and water. Turkish coffee is also available for those late night study sessions.
With six tables – three outside and three inside – twice as many power outlets and free Wi-Fi, at least one group of students are likely to be drowning in lecture notes or presentation slides. Two TV sets are located at each seating area and always have something interesting on; the staff seem to have a knack for knowing when to change the channel.
Shisha is provided by popular brand, Mazaya, and comes in many different flavours, including more unusual types such as rose, grenadine and plum. Although the guy in charge of replenishing the coals isn't always around when needed, a quick yell usually gets him hurrying back.
For video gaming, there are four fully equipped rooms with widescreen LED TV sets, bean bag chairs and lank leather couches. Most rooms comfortably hold four players and around six onlookers. The most popular console seems to be the Playstation, although the Xbox or Wii can be set up on request. Despite the wide variety of games on offer, the most demanded are Call of Duty, Tekken, FIFA, and PES – only original CDs and gamepads are used.
Although you won't find anybody over the age of 30 frequenting the café, Smart Lounge is a laid-back, neighbourhood hang-out that provides just about everything necessary for a fun – and sometimes even productive – evening with friends.
A perfect hangout spot can be hard to find in Cairo. Though there’s certainly no lack of cafes, restaurants and bars, it’s simply difficult to find a place that balances entertainment, food and a sense of comfort all at the same time with venues often sacrificing one aspect to keep the rest as high as possible.
Hidden away in the Walk at Beverly Hills,6th of October City, lies Bricks; a simple venue with an emphasis on being a hangout spot with good food. The outdoor area is filled with modernised version of Ahwa chairs painted in white along with wooden top tables with metal centres offering cosy setting.
Bricks also boasts a relatively small indoor area with the same previously mentioned chairs and a ‘PlayStation Corner’ for anyone who’s into gaming – for free – alongside a huge black graffiti-decorated wall quoting famous Beatles song, Come together.
With a relaxed atmosphere, Bricks offer a chilled out mood their seating arrangements, while the availability of playing cards and backgammon, as well as a screen to show matches, it certainly checks two of the boxes for an all-inclusive hangout spot.
After taking a seat outside and looking through the menus we opted for the Mozzarella sticks (35LE) as an appetiser, as well as the Classic Burger (45LE), the Mushroom Burger (55 LE) and a Chilly Hotdog (40LE) with extra cheese (5LE) for our main dishes.
Arriving only a few minutes later, the appetiser came as four mozzarella sticks with a mayo and sweet chilli sauce; the sticks had a satisfyingly crunchy outer shell with a tender gooey cheese centre that was enhanced even further after dipping it into the sweet chilli sauce for an extra spicy sweet aftertaste.
Our main dishes arrived moments later in wooden framed plates accompanied with a small bowl of pickles, alongside some fries. The Mushroom burger had a large burger patty on top of some lettuce and mayo, topped by Swiss cheese and large mushroom pieces and had some curly fries on the side (4LE).
The curly fries were well seasoned and would rival that of Hardee’s, with a crispy exterior and tender hot interior making us uncontrollably eat one after the other. As for the burger, it had a high quality, pure beef flavour with a barbequed aftertaste, working well with the slightly tangy cheese and the saltiness of the mushroom, making it a well-rounded sandwich.
The classic burger followed the same pattern as the mushroom burger in quality, and had lettuce and tomatoes, but was a bit dry. However, that was quickly solved by adding the mayo and sweet chilli sauce.
Moving on to the Chilli Hotdog, it came in a large hotdog bun, topped with some mustard and smothered with chilli, extra cheese and slices of onion alongside some French fries.
Although the fries lacked a bit of seasoning, it was easily fixed with a bit of salt, and were great, similar to ones from other fast food restaurants like Burger king or McDonald’s; crunchy on the outside, soft and hot on the inside.
As for the hotdog itself, it had the traditional familiar hotdog taste with an extra kick from the mustard, while the onions made the flavour of the chilli pop, making the sandwich one of the highlights of the evening.
We also tried the Peanut Butter Milkshake (30LE), which arrived in a tall glass with a straw. Though rich with peanut butter flavour, it was a bit light texture-wise, and could have been all round better if was a bit thicker.
Overall, our visit to Bricks was a pleasant one. With great food and excellent, attentive staff, it makes for a good hang-out spot for both groups and individuals by keeping things relatively simple and letting the atmosphere and food talk for themselves.