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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Kings Bar: Hotel Bar with Baladi Vibes in Downtown Cairo
The borsa area is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas in Downtown Cairo. It's clean with even pavements, the buildings are well-preserved and the area is rarely crowded. Exactly how we like it. One of the landmark buildings in this area is the Cosmopolitan Hotel. It was designed by Baehler, the architect of the La Bodega and Aperitivo building in Zamalek.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel is one of those former Cairo landmarks once famous for their grandeur and glory. Nowadays, not much of that grandeur remains. Kings Bar is located on the ground floor right after the reception. The reception is actually pretty nice and the library next to the bar looks quite tempting for an afternoon read.
At the time of this reviewer’s visit (weeks before Christmas) the hotel was wrapped up in tacky, shiny Christmas decor including a Santa doll in the beak of an eagle. If we were children we'd probably have recurring nightmares about Santa being devoured by an eagle. Speaking of nightmares, the Kings Bar's interior is a little disturbing with its brown yellowish decor and guns hanging on the wall next to extremely dark paintings in desperate need of cleaning.
Kings Bar is easily comparable to a baladi bar but then located in a hotel, which means it’s not as crowded but prices are still very reasonable. Unfortunately, they only offer beer, whiskey and vodka - all local. A bottle of Heineken, served with an ice-cold glass, costs only 15LE.
Excited about the low prices, we decided to go all out and order a vodka and apple. Never in this town have we received less vodka than in this bar. It was a measly drip and not worth the 12LE we had to pay for it. The apple juice was served on the side in a Juhayna carton, which we squeezed out into our drink through the straw. Because we are people with a great sense of humour, we saw the fun in all of this and actually enjoyed our stay. As soon as we sat down we were presented with a bowl of termis. The more drinks we ordered; the more food arrived at the table such as cucumbers and cheese.
However, we didn’t enjoy our trip to the toilet. The staff seems to believe that flooding the toilet with water and then not drying it up will keep it clean for more time. If this were an actual baladi bar, a toilet like this would have been great, but we expected more from a hotel.
If you’re in the area and crave a cheap, low-key and hassle-free drink, then Kings Bar at the Cosmopolitan Hotel is a perfect spot. However, if you want something more sophisticated, or something more baladi, then lots of other options are available in the area.
For the longest time, bars in Cairo were predominantly, and maybe even justifiably, concentrated in the central areas of the capital, leaving residents of the city’s outskirts, in places like 6th of October City, Heliopolis and even Maadi, to make an exhaustive trip into town – and an even more exhaustive trip back – in search of that thing we call nightlife.
Two or so years or go, however, Heliopolis nightlife exploded (a little); one piece of the proverbial shrapnel that subsequently landed on a dark and sleepy stretch of Omar Ebn El Khattab Street was L’Aubergine.
A longstanding favourite in Zamalek, the bar’s move to Masr El Gedida was a risky one and, though it has stood strong since, there’s a set of drawbacks that have led the bar to plateau.
Said drawbacks are superseded by one – and it’s a biggie: the fact that the sleek and aesthetically-clean bar does not have a license to serve imported spirits. No one has been a more ardent supporter of local industry than Cairo 360 and the #BuyLocal trend, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we try to apply this to alcohol.
One way to get around this problem is to order a cocktail, which the L’Aubergine staff pull-off pretty well and, as the spirits are local, they’re deliciously cheap. A classic whiskey sour (30LE) was served in generous amount and was chugged down pretty quickly. Two of the more peculiarly named cocktails produced mixed results, though. The Sexy Bitch (30LE) saw vodka, pineapple juice, blue curaçao and grenadine served in a tall glass, but was sickly sweet and too heavy on the pineapple. The Horny Paul (45LE), however, packed much more of a punch, thanks to its combination of vodka, tequila, rum and lemonade; it was sharp, tangy and surprisingly refreshing and you could taste all three spirits. Away from the cocktails, beers are between 30LE and 35LE – a safe and reasonably-priced choice.
If you can overlook this imported-spirit-deficiency, then L’Aubergine is a pleasant, if unremarkable, bar where one can enjoy a casual drink with chums – at least that’s what one would hope. Unlike the Zamalek branch’s organically nonchalant atmosphere, L’Aubergine Heliopolis hovers over the idea of being a high-end lounge without really committing to it or any other personality. The decor is dark, cold, cool and demure – all acceptable attributes of a bar. But loud, inappropriately energetic and bass-ridden music, peculiar transparent cafe chairs and TV screens systematically jolt you out of getting comfortable.
In fairness, the venue as a space is treated sensibly and you can find seclusion on the higher round tables and stools, but it’s difficult to judge whether one should turn up in smart, tucked-in shirt or more casual attire.