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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.
There’s a general feeling across Cairo that suggests that the city’s restaurateurs haven’t quite figured out how to bring nightlife into the already complex dining equation; an equation that has been the death of many initially promising ventures that tried to do so. Alchemy is one prime example; though praised from all quarters of both their dining and nightlife attributes, the two elements were never really able to find some kind of point of synchronisation in the minds of discerning Cairenes.
But the Tap, which opened a new branch in New Cairo this month and will be opening a third in Sheikh Zayed’s Westown Hub towards the end of the year, has shown that it can be done and so has Cairo Capital Club, but with a very different approach to the more gastro-pub-insipred Maadi bar.
Outrageous minimum charge aside, Dos Canas was the first to open at the Garden City-located huddle of venues, though Loft21 has been threatening to take the reigns as the CCC’s premiere spot.
Though it took some while to fill up with guests at the time of our visit, Loft21 certainly boasts a unique atmosphere – one reminiscent of hip, overpriced Manhattan bar. The key to that are two things; the stunning Nile view that frames the evening lights of Cairo almost idyllically; and the fact that Loft21’s general aesthetic is chic, sleek and, most importantly, simple.
If there’s one word to best evaluate the feel of Loft21, its subtle; nothing jumps out at you, or is even necessarily memorable, but this very deliberate approach fits what the guys behind the scenes like to call The Loft Experience.
And an experience it is. Not unlike its neighbouring Dos Canas, prices are very much entrenched on the expensive side of the scale; Beef Carpaccio and Salmon tartare starters set us back 103LE and 108LE, respectively. The latter was zinging with the fresh, raw, sharp flavours of a seafood tartare – but is it worth 100LE-plus? That’s open to interpretation, as is the price of the carpaccio, which was clearly of a good sirloin cut and generous on the parmesan.
Mains, meanwhile, are just as elaborate and spectacular as you’d expect – none more so than a 215LE scallop dish. The four large pieces each sat on a mound of champagne risotto, topped with caviar and indiscernible foam that gave each bite a nice acidic touch to the otherwise rich components. The scallops themselves were slightly overcooked and were a little chewy, though the perfectly cooked risotto did maintain its sharp champagne kick to great effect.
A slightly simpler, but no less delicious, dish is the Honey Roasted Chicken Breast (118LE). Grilled to a perfect outer crisp and tender centre, the dish was made more interesting by a delectably sweet raisin sauce and a serving of barley, as well as a whole roasted garlic – which is worth the hassle of trying to dissect.
As with any respectable evening-time haunt, cocktails (90LE-100LE) are aplenty, as are wines and beers; we enjoyed a couple of Sakaras at 40LE a pop and there was even Corona (100LE per bottle) available at the time of our visit. The prompt bar staff whipped us up a perfect Chinatown - apples, ginger, vodka, and pomegranate - while other creative cocktails include The Ellis (Cardamom, Whiskey, Pineapple, Orange Juice) and The Yellowstone (Whiskey, Cranberry, Apples, Mint, Lemons) amongst a list of twenty overall cocktail options.
Essentially, The Loft Experience is whatever you want it to be. It works as a casual drinking hangout, but can also cater to a more formal dining experience. But even if the latter is what you’re looking for, you’ll invariably find yourself unshackling any kind of formalness to take in what is a smart, elegant and easy package of food, drinks and socialising.