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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.
Residents of Maadi are very proud – and a little protective – of their neighbourhood. Having possibly taken the lead ahead of Zamalek as Cairo’s epicentre of cafes and restaurants, there is one field that it has never really excelled at: nightlife.
This year alone, two bars – Tipsy Bar & Lounge and Syren Bar – opened in the same spot to much fanfare, only to close with a whimper.
Equal, if not more, fanfare accompanied the opening of the Tap, but things seem to be running on a much more even keel thus far. In the run-up to its opening, the unrelenting power of social media sold it as a British-influenced bar – not quite a pub, but certainly borrowing many of its elements.
Said elements aren’t quite as explicit once you’re settled in the venue. Nonetheless, it balances enough visual quirks with a self-assured unfussiness to keep the atmosphere interesting. Red bricking is the most notable decorative feature, but its overall welcoming simplicity doesn’t render the distinct decor jarring in anyway.
What is slightly jarring, however, is the space’s corridor layout which, during busier nights (especially those that attract patrons of the clubbing variety), can be hard to navigate. In addition, the bar-space is rather small and, if you haven’t booked a table that affords you table-service, you may find yourself carefully squeezing your arm through a line of seated people to try and catch the staff’s attention. In fairness, however, said staff are attentive and pleasantly indiscriminate in service.
Drinks (50LE-70LE) are, generally, well made and the staff aren’t shy, but in fact rather generous, when it comes to making cocktails, never skimping on the alcohol; try the Banana Daquiri or the Amaretto Sour - you won't be disappointed.
The owners of the Tap seemed to have deliberately downplayed the dining aspect, despite offering an eclectic menu of bar-friendly snacks and full-blown mains – and it’s a clever move that has saved the Tap from falling into the same pitfalls as other pseudo-gastropubs in Cairo that have wrongly assumed that the city’s (overly) discerning nightlife collective can digest the concept. This, however, bares no reflection on the quality of the food itself; buckets of BBQ Buffalo Wings (60LE) are excellently made (and come with customary disposable gloves) and dishes like the BBQ Ribs (110LE) are executed to near perfection. The meat is of noticeably good quality and is cooked to a perfect tenderness and flavour, thanks to an excellent hickory barbeque sauce.
Unlike its predecessors, the Tap has laid a foundation that will almost certainly see it be a major player on the nightlife scene for a long time to come – knock on wood – and already has plans to open another branch in the SODIC’s West Town Hub, which is still in a very early construction period. The biggest reason for this is that the owners gave themselves enough time to find their footing, refraining from launching into a stream of needlessly complicated concepts and gimmicks. It's not the F1 simulator, the arcade system or even the three-litre personal beer-tap that makes the Tap stand out - these are all sidenotes; its real quality is in its brave simplicity. Essentially, the Tap speaks for itself – and for bar that that has been birthed from the basics of a British pub, it speaks rather well.