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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
El Horreya Café and Bar: Cairo’s Quintessential Baladi Bar
When it comes to nightlife in downtown Cairo, it’s all about baladi bars. The infamous act of baladi bar hopping is common amongst locals with side-streets, alleyways and rooftops bursting with curious watering holes. No baladi bar crawl would be complete however without a stop at El Horreya Café. For decades, El Horreya has been like a living room where leftist intellectuals, artists, writers, expats and locals alike gather to socialise.
El Horreya is a huge cafeteria-like café and bar that offers tea, coffee and cold beer. It opens in the early afternoon and closes at 2AM. During the day, locals can be seen sipping their coffees while playing chess and other board games that are available. It’s also a popular spot for a mid-afternoon beer-with-termis gathering. On week nights, it can get quite crowded, and let’s just say that there’s nowhere in Downtown Cairo like El Horreya Café on a Thursday evening.
For as long as most regulars can remember, El Horreya’s charm was in its gritty and dilapidated décor. However, El Horreya Café recently underwent major renovation. Gone are the days of cigarette-butted floors, broken tables and walls that haven’t been painted since Abdel Nasser’s time. With a fresh coat of paint, new chairs, tables and mirrors, El Horreya is a new café! The old staff is still there, but now all wearing matching polo shirts with an emblazed Heineken logos.
Thankfully, it’s still the same popular hangout where everyone knows your name, and you can still get a Stella for 9.75LE. El Horreya is a busy place, though; so don’t be insulted if you’re ignored by the staff on busy nights and you need to ask twice for a beer.
A bottle of Stella is 9.75LE. Heineken, Sakara Gold and Meister Max cost between 11LE to 12LE, while an ID Double Edge is 16LE. Tea and coffee never surpass 1LE to 2LE.
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.