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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Horreya Hotel Café & Bar: Casual Heliopolis Nightspot
Local hotel restaurants and bars in Cairo are often overlooked by Cairenes. Instead, much of the city's nightlife contingent find themselves frequenting more reputable establishments, when in fact they can have the same thrills at half the price.
Pleasantly secluded in a Heliopolis side street, Horreya Hotel is home to a café and bar high up on the 8th floor. Taking a seat inside, you might feel like you're in a disco scene in a 70s Egyptian film; the walls are coated with polished engraved wood and the bar is lined with eclectic-red barstools – a colour also used for the curtains. Unfortunately, the old school vibe is killed by an LCD screen hanging on the wall. In the summer, regulars tend to favour the breezy outdoor terrace for its tranquil rooftop view.
Since this is a hotel, expect hospitable treatment from the staff, all of whom don white shirts and black trousers. Since most of the patrons head to the bar for a casual beer (17LE) and smoke, don't be surprised if you're not brought a menu without asking first.
Interestingly, the menu has a vegan section – a rarity in Cairo. Our waiter informed us that the section was added due to popular request by foreign guests staying at the hotel. Being Cairenes, we lean more to the carnivorous side, so we skipped the curry rice for something meatier.
For starters, we ordered Dauod Pasha meatballs (18LE) and a taboula salad (9LE), followed by chicken alfredo pasta (23LE) and an Om Ali (15LE) for dessert. Since our visit was on a week day and Horreya was a little empty, our meal was served in less than half an hour.
First up on our table were the meatballs and taboula. Peculiarly, the meatballs were served without any sauce, presented on a bed of shredded carrots. Nibbling the small portions off of toothpicks, the dish was disappointingly cold and bland. In contrast, the taboula salad was perfect; served in a clay oval dish, the veggies were well-cut and crunchy, and the dressing was nicely seasoned.
Shortly afterwards, we were handed a gratifying dish of alfredo pasta. The steaming pool of thick, white, creamy sauce was teeming with fettuccine, chicken strips and the occasional tuft of mushroom, and it all tasted as great as it looked. It was so good in fact that we decided to use the sauce as a dip for the meatballs.
Whilst forking our last string of pasta, our waiter returned to present us with the Om Ali. The traditional treat looked a little off at first, as it was sprinkled with icing sugar, but digging in proved our doubts to be misplaced.
The chunky pastry was moist without being soggy and its flavour rang through our taste buds, since the chef had been kind enough not to over-sweeten it. It was certainly much better than the Om Ali served at fancy Egyptian weddings.
In a neighbourhood has only recently become more receptive to nightlife, Horreya is great for evening hangouts with friends. Heliopolis residents can enjoy a rooftop view and an affordable dinner and drink without having to cross 6th of October Bridge.
Located on Qasr El Nil Street, right next to Qasr El Nil Theatre in Downtown Cairo, VENT offers local culture enthusiasts an alternative to the better established bars and clubs in Cairo by labelling itself as both a bar and cultural space.
Taking over the venue that was once Arabesque, VENT is relatively easy to spot, with the sign of the previous bar remaining in place.
Offering a variety of culture events, from live music, film screenings, to site-specific plays, an entrance fee of 50LE is required on all nights except on Thursday when the fee gets bumped up to 150LE. Having recently celebrated a six-month anniversary, VENT is everything an ‘underground’ space should be.
The interior is characterised by lighting choice, utilising a stark contrast between the dark and intense lights during upbeat DJ performances, and more mellow and relaxing lighting during live musician performances. Contrasting the poster-decorated walls are old tile clad floors, emblematic of Downtown’s rich heritage.
A spacious bar takes up most of the facing wall once you enter, offering a range of drinks, with a Heineken going for 30LE and soft drinks for 15LE. There is also a decent-sized menu that includes a choice of mezza platters (40LE-65LE), nachos (30LE), sandwiches (30LE-50LE) and pastas (45LE).
We opted for a Club Sandwich (40LE) which was thick and juicy, stacked with fresh ingredients and served with deliciously thick-cut French fries.
Their nachos are a good on-the-go choice, though they could do with more generous dressings as we found the dish to be slightly dry as opposed to gooey and luscious.
However, VENT is not particularly about the food, but much rather about the show. A monthly schedule provides information on upcoming events and while VENT promises a range of cultural doings, music has for the most part taken over.
With live musicians such as PanSTARSS, Aya Metwalli and the Invisible Hands taking to the stage, as have quite a few local and international DJs, there have also been the more obscure of music nights such as the one featuring Maxime Denuc; a sound producer from France.
Though the music line-ups and their variety have given music buffs a reason to leave their house in search of new sounds, VENT's hosting of non-music events is somewhat lacking - a stark reality of Cairo's cultural landscape.
All in all, Vent has come as an uplifting change from the monotonous, musically bland nightlife scene in Cairo, securing a safe haven for those uninterested in pretentious attitudes, repetitive crowds and the 'thud, thud, thud' atmosphere of the city's most frequented bars.