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Stella Bar: One of Downtown’s Finest Baladi Bars
On the corner of Hoda Sharawy Street's intersection with Talaat Harb Street, behind a tiny kiosk that sells flip-flops and random tourist souvenirs, there’s a suspicious door that is usually cracked about half-way open. Stella Bar’s entrance is not very noticeable; nor is it inviting. Most people are introduced to this tiny baladi bar through friends, which helps the bar maintain a certain underground status, although it’s very popular. In fact, one could argue that Stella Bar is one of Cairo’s last authentically baladi bars.
One step in and you’ll understand why this bar is so legendary. The entire venue is the size of an average Cairo living room. There’s a small bar immediately in front of the entrance, and there are about a dozen or so tables with bright yellow, cigarette-burned table mats bearing the Stella logo. During the day, business is a bit slow; so artists and writers can be seen sketching, writing or reading there while slowly enjoying their beers. By night, the bar is filled to capacity with young people, expats, artists and downtown regulars. It’s not uncommon to run into famous painters, curators and writers at Stella Bar, if you can spot them.
Within minutes of sitting, a cold beer and a plate of freshly cut carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, white cheese and rocket herb will be served. The veggies and cheese are the absolute perfect complement to a wonderfully chilled Stella beer. In fact, once you’ve tried it, it’s hard to enjoy a Stella without the fixins. There’s also absolutely no problem bringing in food from outside. So, if you’re hungry, grab some fresh takeaway from Felfela or Kazaz and enjoy it with a drink.
Finally, the best thing about Stella Bar, apart from an authentic baladi bar experience, is the price tag. Stella costs 12LE a bottle, and add a few pounds for the cheese and fresh veggie munchies. Stella Bar has been a popular local hangout for decades and will hopefully continue for many more. It’s a great place for a mid-afternoon sketching session or a Thursday night hangout.
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.