A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Prophet Ahead of My Time: Stella's Guide to Cairo Baladi Bars

My earlier post on Black Saturday got me thinking about some of the targets that day. Shepheard's of course, and the Turf Club, and several other British clubs, and cinemas, seen as Western symbols; also a number of bars. I'm told the old Bar Cecil, which survived into the early 1970s, was a target. That led me into some surfing last night on the bars of Cairo, which as you'll note I've posted on before. though not as often as some of my friends claim (of over 900 posts, only three prior to this one involved bars). But in my wanderings I discovered that I was ahead of my time. Back in the 70s, as I've mentioned in those earlier posts, several friends and I — most of us having risen high enough in academia or government as to possibly not want to be identified here — worked on a little hand circulated guide to the baladi or down-market bars of Central Cairo.

Now I find, to my delight, that Stella, the Egyptian beer, has an online and somewhat interactive guide to what they describe as the Baladi bars of downtown Cairo. Now some of these bars are not really baladi, but they aren't in five-star hotels, either; I'm glad to see so many of the old ones are still around.

Here's a recent account that led me there, and I'm glad to know the Horreya is still serving after hours.


LJ Marczak said...

One can't go home again, it seems.

Sadly, the Bar Filfila is no more. Replaced by a fast food outlet. I wonder what they did with all the peanut shells.

In 1982 on my wife's first trip to Egypt, I showed her some of my old haunts.

The Estoril was a souvenir shop. The Embassy was also turned into a shop of some sort. The owner did confirm to me what we thought those many years ago - both restaurants shared the same kitchen. I never looked on subsequent trips. Glad to hear it's open again.

On the same trip Le Grillon was open as a restaurant but quite different than before. My wife and I had dinner there along with about 20 cats - no non feline customers except ourselves. Sounds like the clientele has improved. I hope the food has too.

The biggest disappointment was Groppi's. In 1982 it was run down. We had a sort of indifferent dinner. In 2006, no restaurant, even more run down and the Turkish coffee worse than indifferent.

And don't get me started on the "attractive" bridge down the middle of 26th July Street in Zamalek.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

By 1977 the Embassy was a Jewelry store, but the Estoril was still around, and if you note, "Estoril" is still listed on the Stella guide, though it, and Grillon, and Arabesque, all seem to have gone way downmarket, Grillon is called a "left-leaning intellectual hangout" and Carol, once another good European style spot, is now defined as a "girlie bar." (I'm assuming that refers to belly dancers, but as an old married guy I doubt if I'll ever actually know.)

As for Groppi's, in the mid-70s some Gulfis (Kuwaitis I think) took it over and turned it dry. It was never the same after: too elitist for the coffeeshouse crowd, and no alcohol for the pashas.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Oh, and one more thing: though Filfila downtown is gone, apparently the ome st the Pyramids (which opened somewhere between my 72-73 and 77-78 stays, survives:


ViP said...

Horreya or the place I spent so much time drinking this low-quality but enjoyable Stella with the crazy waiter whose name I forgot!

It has this unique atmosphere that I did not find in any other bar in Cairo.

LJ Marczak said...

Thanks for the updates.

Last time I was in Cairo - 2006 - the Filfila Restaurant Downtown was open and adorned with pictures of various celebrities.

The whole area seems pretty run down from our days as students.

What I think happened is that the Kasr el Nil/Midan Sulayman Pasha area no longer holds the same position it did back when we lived there. The center of the city life seems to have shifted elsewhere. Maybe outside the city and out from under the famous "black" cloud. Or maybe into the shiny new hotels.

The whole street has gone down market. The Qasr El Nil Cinema was closed. It looked like someone had locked the doors and unscrewed all the light bulbs.

Groppi's. Yes, I heard that investors from the Khalij had bought the business. One can I think run a restaurant without serving alcohol. There's little left. And when we were there Groppi's was a pale shadow of its glory. In 2006 the cafe was beyond shabby. My wife almost tore her dress sitting down. No real food service.

On the alcohol issue, when I lived in Bahrain, there was a story that the Saudi investor who bought Grand Hyatt Hotel on Roda had the staff empty the liquor "cabinet" into the Nile. Reports were at least US$1 million, including some rather old and rare wines.

Anyways, the only business still holding up the area is Maktab Madbuli. And a rather newish bookshop on the other side of the Midan.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

I heard the same story about the hotel on Roda (which I think started life as a Meridien, then changed hands and expanded), except that apparently the Hard Rock Cafe right downstairs still serves alcohol even though the hotel is dry, so there's a workaround.

LJ Marczak said...

I heard that Marriott struck a deal regarding the restaurant on the top floor. It would rent the space and operate the restaurant. And provide room service for both food and beverages to guests who might want to eat and/or drink in their rooms.

Maybe the HRC has the same sort of deal? It's a tenant and so the owner is not himself serving alcohol.