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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
The Cellar: Old-School Pub
As a Cairo pub/restaurant that is an institution among its patrons, The Cellar is probably one of the oldest running establishments in town. Nestled in the basement of the President Hotel in Zamalek, you cannot help but feel that you are descending into a subterranean cavern as you walk down the steps to The Cellar.
Once inside, you are greeted by several high tables, a bar and several long rectangular dining tables that are situated further into the ‘cavern’. The Cellar is dark (obviously, it quite literally is a cellar), with dark wood tables and wall panels. A plethora of different liquor bottles in a glass display case on the wall add to the effect– although we’re not sure what the exact desired is, but there is definitely an effect.
The Cellar is one of those Cairene pubs where you get a completely different level of service if you’re a regular. It doesn’t take much to become a regular, though; just a few visits and a couple of generous tips should do the trick and cause the waiters to greet you cheerily by your name upon arrival. Even if one isn’t a regular, the service is proper enough.
The food is pretty much what you would expect at an 'Egyptian' pub. The mezzas (between 15LE and 35LE) are not to be missed. Particularly recommended are the white cheese dip, the oriental sausages (sojo’), and the fried calamari. As a main course, the cheeseburger (around 25LE) is definitely recommended, although if you are expecting a traditional cheeseburger in a bun you will be disappointed; because The Cellar’s cheeseburger is no more than its name implies: a burger patty with a slice of melted cheese on top (sans bun). The burger itself is succulent and you can tell that the ground beef used is of superb quality.
The drinks are pretty much standard pub fare for Cairo. A wide variety of local beers (around 22LE for a Stella) and wines is served, along with imported hard liquors. A common practice among the regulars is to bring in their own bottles of liquor and pay bouchon charges (100LE for regular bottles of wine and spirits, 120LE for special labels, such as Black Label or Johnny Walker), which is definitely the more economic option if you’re going to consume more than a drink or two.
The Cellar is definitely a great place to go to for a drink or two, some conversation and laughs, and some pub fare. In a nightlife scene where the sky seems to be the limit when it comes to food and drink prices, the Cellar is still quite affordable.
When it comes to Cairo nightlife, there’s an increasing variety of bars, clubs and pubs to choose from. There are, however, staples that have become second homes to nocturnal Cairenes; venues that have been there for what feels like forever; ones that you can turn to when experimenting with the newer venues is just too much of a hassle. For Maadi residents, the Red Onion has been one such place.
Looking quite small and demure from the outside, the bar and restaurant is located on one of Maadi’s quieter side streets and is almost easy to miss. Stepping inside, you find yourself in a stuffy, dimly-lit space with off-white walls and several small tables occupied by loud crowds.
A rather confusing and loud playlist does nothing to compliment what looks to be a traditional Mediterranean theme that the interior design is trying almost too hard to portray. Ragheb Alama sings his heart out on one of his 2007 tracks followed by Usher’s infamous ‘Yeah’ – you get the picture.
A waiter scurries amongst the clouds of smoke filling the air and is immediately by our side ready to take our order. When asked for menus, he simply said “we offer everything, just shoot” – a rather odd and quite perplexing response. Not actually wanting to order food, we dismissed the waiter’s peculiar answer.
Whereas a can of regular soda will set you back 13LE, a Stella beer will cost you 20LE – it doesn’t make sense, but little in Cairo ever does. While cocktail prices vary, they do so within reason. We opted for a Tequila Sunrise (30LE) and a whiskey and Coke (69LE).
Our drinks came within a few minutes accompanied by a small bowl of salted popcorn and another of Lupini beans, which were devoured within minutes and were, sadly, not refilled throughout the night.
The Tequila Sunrise was very peachy and refreshing, while the whiskey and Coke had a surprisingly large serving of whiskey – we aren’t complaining.
Service wise, the waiters are quite efficient and you can always spot one standing somewhere nearby. The drinks arrived swiftly and were of sufficient quality, as well as comparatively very low prices.
All in all, Red Onion has retained its satisfactory level of service and its interior hasn’t changed at all. The loud crowds and even louder, outdated background music can, however, be a tad unsettling especially if you’re simply looking to unwind after a long day. To compare the Red Onion with Cairo's more modern bars would be unfair, however; this is one nightlife spot that very much relies on a steady stream of regulars. You can by all means enjoy a night there, just don't expect five-star anything. Or four-star anything for that matter.