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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Odeon Palace Bar: Downtown Rooftop Hang Out
Talaat Harb Street and its surrounding area host a slew of iconic Cairo bars well known to locals and expats alike. Filled with cultural monuments and historical establishments, the street itself is bursting with liveliness streaming in from all sides. Talaat Harb Street is the place to be when you’re in the mood to let loose and soak up some of the energetic buzz that this city is overflowing with.
On Abdel Hamid Street, past Odeon Cinema, lies Odeon Hotel, where the 10th floor is home to its famous no-frills rooftop bar. Open 24 hours a day, this Downtown bar is a quick getaway from the hustle of the streets. As it’s a fairly well-known bar, the Odeon bar also provides an easy meeting point for Downtown folk when time is of the essence or traffic is making you pull your hair out.
The indoor seating area and bar are spacious, filled with a rough oriental motif and colour schemes reminiscent of the 1970s. Wood panelling and tacky stylised lamps grace various nooks and crannies; perfect for some alone time with a book, while larger tables provide space for hosting bigger parties.
While the indoor portion is spacious enough, most people head directly for the outdoor terrace that looks out onto the street. The view itself is nothing to boast about; but the terrace provides a terrific location to catch a gentle breeze away from the often-stuffy atmosphere inside.
An everyday minimum of 10LE is charged before 9PM, while 15LE will be charged if you arrive later. Odeon offers a full-scale menu with mediocre food, including grilled chicken (32LE) and steak (34LE). No free mezzas are provided with your drinks. Then again, Odeon isn’t the place to go to for food unless you get hungry after a beer or two.
Cut to the chase and order a cold drink and a shisha (10LE). A Stella costs 15LE, while other beers like Heineken and Sakkara cost the difference of only a few pounds more. Juices run around 12LE, while liquor will cost around 20LE a shot, and a bottle of wine like Omar Khayyam is to 80LE.
It’s a hit-and-miss case with the wait staff; they can sometimes be friendly and welcoming, other times they’ll ignore you. Also, your order may take a while; but if you’re in the company of good friends, it won’t seem to matter anyway.
Jewel of the Zamalek crown, the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino never ceases to dazzle, offering rich oriental vibes with a refined twist, especially this year with the hotel’s fancy Ramadan kheima, Som3a Basha.
A play on Khedive Ismail Pasha, who built the castle for a French Empress, the theme of the kheima is that of a castle setting with all its luxury coupled with the authentic feel of Egyptian street food served from carts and vendors.
As we walked past the Marriott Promenade Garden leading to the tent, we were struck by a surprisingly beautiful cool weather in dry July – a promising start to the night.
As we stepped inside, we were immediately taken by the elegant ambiance, stylish lanterns, beautiful castle inspired décor and smiling waiters.
We picked a table with a good view of the stage, and waited patiently for the Sohour buffet to begin (10.30PM). As we waited, we were offered the drinks Karkade (Hibiscus) and Tamr Hindy (Dates). The Karkade was bold in flavour, and tartness, and despite being slightly warm, it was refreshing. The Tamr Hindy was easy on the sugar and had a pleasing hint of bitterness that complimented it.
The live Takht show began soon after and we were transported – there was just something about the atmosphere, the spirit, the music and the night that made us forget how hungry we were.
When we did remember how hungry we were, and the buffet opened, we headed on over to check it out. All the food, except for the salads and desserts, was served in authentic street-carts with a kitschy, yet classic Egyptian feel to them.
We took a stroll down the aisle where the carts were, and had a good look at everything before we decided what to dive into. The buffet ranged from falafel and eggs, to grilled kofta and chicken. The salad selection consisted of assorted vegetables, dressings and yoghurt and though the selection provided no surprises, the food was quite flavoursome and we went back for seconds – of course.
No Ramadan sohour would be complete without shisha and we opted for Grape and Peach (30LE each). In terms of quality, both were bold and distinct, though the grape was a bit too harsh for our taste. In terms of coal maintenance, however, you’ll need to be patient – on the busier nights, the shisha attendants, are somewhat overwhelmed.
Then, as we started to feel a bit peckish, we went back for dessert and were met with a large selection of fruits and sweet Ramadan delights, our favourite of which was the Zalabya cart. You might have to time your dessert excursions, though, with the desserts quickly getting cold in the breezy weather.
Overall, the aura and the entertainment at Som3a Basha were delightful and, although not faultless, the Marriott has made good use of its space.