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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Lotus Inn: Quiet Downtown Baladi Bar with Private Balcony
By night, baladi bars are nothing short of a way of life in Downtown Cairo. While we all know famous baladi bar hangouts like El Horreya and Stella, they’re far from ideal when looking for some privacy.
So if you’re hoping to catch up with an old friend or getting to know a special someone without running into dozens of your Downtown friends, head over to Lotus Inn’s bar. It’s conveniently located by Stella Bar and Estoril, so you can pop over to the more popular bars later in the night.
The bar at the Lotus Inn is located on the rooftop of the hotel. The décor is a bit retro 70s with heavy, flowered draping and glass-tiled ceilings. The main room is long and tubular with four seats evenly spread out opposite from the bar. The hidden secret is the tiny balcony that comfortably seats two or three people. There is usually absolutely not a soul in sight except for the man behind the bar dressed in a white dress shirt and suit pants. There’s only one thing on the menu, and that’s a cold Stella beer for only 10LE.
Because the venue is so small, this is not the place for a group of more than three or four people unless they don’t mind being separated. A couple can fit on the outdoor balcony and the others can drink inside. That being said; this very weakness makes the bar perfect for an intimate get-together. The barman is never intrusive and leaves couples on the rooftop to enjoy their company and beers in peace.
The nice outdoor space and the fact that no one frequents this hidden watering hole is reason enough to give it a chance on a lazy Thursday night. Although there is no termis on site, the barman is always more than happy to serve you chipsy crisps. He is even known on occasion to go out and get some if you’ll happily send him off with a pound or two.
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.