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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Excelsior: 1950s Diner Turned Bar in Downtown Cairo
Downtown Cairo never surprises us with its random selection of baladi bars. From one end of the neighbourhood to the other, you can always stumble upon hidden watering holes and hotel night spots where you can have a quiet evening and knock back a few.
On the ground floor of the rustic Excelsior Hotel on Talaat Harb Street is Excelsior Bar, a small, dim-lit bar laden with a cursive glowing sign and big windows looking out onto the street. The bar covers an entire corner of Talaat Harb Street and Adly Street, making it difficult to miss.
Taken over what this reviewer can only assume was a 1950s diner, Excelsior contains dozens of small tables and replicated street lamps for lighting. The old Polaroids lining the entrance left this reviewer wondering about the bar in its heyday and the patrons that once frequented it.
By the looks of things, a few patrons seemed to be everyday regulars, just there for their beer or cup of coffee. A few couples were scattered around as well, so Excelsior is indeed women-friendly.
Waiters are dressed in traditional black-and-white uniforms and are quick to serve you without any hassle. Setting the title of ‘bar’ aside, Excelsior’s still got that diner-esque atmosphere, where the menu primarily consists of food and caffeinated options, including sandwiches (12LE to 15LE), salads (7LE to 12LE) and coffees (7LE to 12LE). If you’re just looking for a snack, bowls of complimentary peanuts and seeds are available on the tabletops.
The drinks menu lists juice and alcoholic beverages including Stella (12LE), Heineken (15LE), Meister Max, ID Edge and Omar Khayyam wine (18LE per glass). Beers come served with the appreciated addition of a nicely chilled glass on the side, while our glass of wine was just cold enough.
For 12LE, we had to help ourselves to a banana split; served in a quintessential dessert bowl and filled with strawberry, mango and vanilla ice cream. A little iced over, the ice cream didn’t do much for us but the baby puffs of cream for decor and banana slices were more satisfying to devour. Other ice cream options included milkshakes and sundaes.
After all is said and done, Excelsior reminded us more of a lunch spot than a watering hole. If a late lunch and beer is your thing, you might really like this venue; just don’t judge a book by its cover.
Jewel of the Zamalek crown, the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino never ceases to dazzle, offering rich oriental vibes with a refined twist, especially this year with the hotel’s fancy Ramadan kheima, Som3a Basha.
A play on Khedive Ismail Pasha, who built the castle for a French Empress, the theme of the kheima is that of a castle setting with all its luxury coupled with the authentic feel of Egyptian street food served from carts and vendors.
As we walked past the Marriott Promenade Garden leading to the tent, we were struck by a surprisingly beautiful cool weather in dry July – a promising start to the night.
As we stepped inside, we were immediately taken by the elegant ambiance, stylish lanterns, beautiful castle inspired décor and smiling waiters.
We picked a table with a good view of the stage, and waited patiently for the Sohour buffet to begin (10.30PM). As we waited, we were offered the drinks Karkade (Hibiscus) and Tamr Hindy (Dates). The Karkade was bold in flavour, and tartness, and despite being slightly warm, it was refreshing. The Tamr Hindy was easy on the sugar and had a pleasing hint of bitterness that complimented it.
The live Takht show began soon after and we were transported – there was just something about the atmosphere, the spirit, the music and the night that made us forget how hungry we were.
When we did remember how hungry we were, and the buffet opened, we headed on over to check it out. All the food, except for the salads and desserts, was served in authentic street-carts with a kitschy, yet classic Egyptian feel to them.
We took a stroll down the aisle where the carts were, and had a good look at everything before we decided what to dive into. The buffet ranged from falafel and eggs, to grilled kofta and chicken. The salad selection consisted of assorted vegetables, dressings and yoghurt and though the selection provided no surprises, the food was quite flavoursome and we went back for seconds – of course.
No Ramadan sohour would be complete without shisha and we opted for Grape and Peach (30LE each). In terms of quality, both were bold and distinct, though the grape was a bit too harsh for our taste. In terms of coal maintenance, however, you’ll need to be patient – on the busier nights, the shisha attendants, are somewhat overwhelmed.
Then, as we started to feel a bit peckish, we went back for dessert and were met with a large selection of fruits and sweet Ramadan delights, our favourite of which was the Zalabya cart. You might have to time your dessert excursions, though, with the desserts quickly getting cold in the breezy weather.
Overall, the aura and the entertainment at Som3a Basha were delightful and, although not faultless, the Marriott has made good use of its space.