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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.
Nestled in the heart of Downtown Cairo, located just a few minutes’ walk from the Naguib Metro stop, Happy City rooftop bar – of the Happy City Hotel – offers a chill, relaxed place to spend a night out with friends.
Walking into the lobby of the hotel we were somewhat worried we’d be in for a disappointing night, with fake flower door curtains and the 70s style décor of the rest of the lobby, but stepping out on the seventh floor rooftop bar, we were pleasantly surprised.
Happy City is spacious, with large tables and comfortable chairs scattered around; there were already several groups enjoying the open air, even though we had arrived rather early in the evening. Plastic covers protected patrons from the chill of the night, but a comfortable breeze was still blowing through and the plastic didn’t detract too much from the overall experience. In warmer months the rooftop would have a fantastic view.
Happy City’s décor is nothing particularly special, but it is comfortable and laidback – encouraging patrons to stay for hours and hours. The music mostly consists of Arab pop, but it largely faded into the background, allowing us to concentrate on our conversation. The other patrons were a mixed bag; a collection of tourists and ex-pats to locals. This isn’t really a place to meet new people though, since most people were concentrated on their own group and the tables are widely spaced apart.
On a side note, we found that the bathrooms were not kept in stock or particularly clean.
We settled in and called for the waiter, who explained that there weren’t any menus for us to look at. Deciding to go with Cairo staples, we ordered a round of Stellas (15LE) and Heinekens (20LE). After taking our orders the waiter quickly returned, drinks and complementary table snacks in tow. We found that the snacks at Happy City are a step up from those usually offered in bars, with a selection of chickpeas, tirmis, carrots and cucumbers. We saw other tables with fresh bread and dips, and at our request, our server was happy to provide us with those treats as well.
However, we weren’t as impressed with service; the Stellas weren’t as cold as they could have been and we had to really work to flag down the waiter when we wanted to order another round.
We ordered both the apple and peach flavoured shisha (5LE) to find that the shisha is a definite highlight at Happy City. Though it took quite a while to arrive at our table, it was definitely much better than other shisha we’ve had around Cairo, and the price absolutely can’t be beat. The shisha attendant also did a great job keeping the coals hot all night.
We quite enjoyed our time at Happy City and are planning to make it a constant in our routine. Though the service wasn’t great that night, the prices are good, the atmosphere is relaxing, and the people are chill. Happy City is the perfect place to whittle away the hours with a couple of friends over some good conversation.