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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Carmen Pub Bar: Cosy Drinking in Zamalek
Like the Flamenco Hotel that it resides in, Carmen Pub Bar was once considered a Spanish pub, if there ever were such a thing. Nowadays, its faint lighting, calm murmuring atmosphere and innocuous appearance lend it the qualities of an English pub. Perfect for a beer and a quiet chat, non-Flamenco Hotel guests rarely venture to other parts of their drinks repertoire.
The first round of drinks we ordered consisted of a rodeo rider and a Caribbean punch (both 41LE). They looked almost identical, and the barman had to assure us that these were indeed the drinks we had ordered, and that their appearance is merely coincidental. It was hard to believe, considering that the rodeo rider was made of Jack Daniel’s, apple juice, lemon juice and honey, while the Caribbean punch contained gold rum, amaretto, grenadine, lemon juice, pineapple juice and club soda. We’re not exactly sure how the both sets of ingredients came to the same bright pink colour, but they were indeed completely different in taste.
They did have something in common, though; they had little alcohol in them. The rodeo rider in particular tasted like apple juice and honey with a slight bitterness, which would usually have been satisfying on a hot summer’s day, but we were thirsty for sharp, hard alcohol.
A whiskey sour (40LE) is probably the closest thing that fit on the cocktail menu. It fared better, but we already knew that it was also light on the alcohol by its bright yellow colour. On impulse, we also gave the hot chocolate (15LE) a go. Served piping hot with a small cookie, it was far from what you’d get at a decent coffee shop and had an amateurish homemade taste to it; for better and for worse.
Although there are a few burger options on the drinks menu, there’s actually a full selection of food available on a separate menu that you need to ask for. Looking for something more to nibble on than the complimentary cheese, carrots, bread sticks and mysterious cheese dip that you are always given, we ordered the oriental mezza (45LE) and the bookmaker sandwich (46LE).
The former is a feeble collection of two sambousak and kobeba resting on a bed of lettuce in the middle of a platter that holds four dips; yoghurt and cucumber, hummus, tehina and baba ghanough. Although the sambousak and kobeba were hot, crunchy and packed full of meat, it was a ridiculously stark serving. Luckily, a basket of bread meant we were able to keep dipping at the tehina, baba ghanough and hummus, which were fresh, but felt a little watered down in taste. The yoghurt turned out to be a completely useless dip.
As an old American favourite, the bookmaker is essentially a steak sandwich. Served in a large, slightly elongated bun, the pieces of steak were generous but a little closer to being lukewarm than you’d want. As with a lot of burgers and sandwiches you’ll stumble upon in Cairo, the quality and freshness of the bread let down what was otherwise a pleasant sandwich.
This is not the flashiest, classiest, nicest or even cheapest bar you’ll find in Cairo. But there’s a reason Carmen Pub Bar has built up such a loyal clientele: it’s comfortable and the staff are very courteous; two characteristics that many bars in Cairo lack.
Located on Qasr El Nil Street, right next to Qasr El Nil Theatre in Downtown Cairo, VENT offers local culture enthusiasts an alternative to the better established bars and clubs in Cairo by labelling itself as both a bar and cultural space.
Taking over the venue that was once Arabesque, VENT is relatively easy to spot, with the sign of the previous bar remaining in place.
Offering a variety of culture events, from live music, film screenings, to site-specific plays, an entrance fee of 50LE is required on all nights except on Thursday when the fee gets bumped up to 150LE. Having recently celebrated a six-month anniversary, VENT is everything an ‘underground’ space should be.
The interior is characterised by lighting choice, utilising a stark contrast between the dark and intense lights during upbeat DJ performances, and more mellow and relaxing lighting during live musician performances. Contrasting the poster-decorated walls are old tile clad floors, emblematic of Downtown’s rich heritage.
A spacious bar takes up most of the facing wall once you enter, offering a range of drinks, with a Heineken going for 30LE and soft drinks for 15LE. There is also a decent-sized menu that includes a choice of mezza platters (40LE-65LE), nachos (30LE), sandwiches (30LE-50LE) and pastas (45LE).
We opted for a Club Sandwich (40LE) which was thick and juicy, stacked with fresh ingredients and served with deliciously thick-cut French fries.
Their nachos are a good on-the-go choice, though they could do with more generous dressings as we found the dish to be slightly dry as opposed to gooey and luscious.
However, VENT is not particularly about the food, but much rather about the show. A monthly schedule provides information on upcoming events and while VENT promises a range of cultural doings, music has for the most part taken over.
With live musicians such as PanSTARSS, Aya Metwalli and the Invisible Hands taking to the stage, as have quite a few local and international DJs, there have also been the more obscure of music nights such as the one featuring Maxime Denuc; a sound producer from France.
Though the music line-ups and their variety have given music buffs a reason to leave their house in search of new sounds, VENT's hosting of non-music events is somewhat lacking - a stark reality of Cairo's cultural landscape.
All in all, Vent has come as an uplifting change from the monotonous, musically bland nightlife scene in Cairo, securing a safe haven for those uninterested in pretentious attitudes, repetitive crowds and the 'thud, thud, thud' atmosphere of the city's most frequented bars.