A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Barman of Cairo's Windsor Hotel Bar Remembers

Last week ended with Nelson Mandela's passing. Let me start this week with a more positive note, and with a video that will warm the hearts of old Cairo hands, and perhaps educate the young ones.

Let me begin by noting that the bar of the old Windsor Hotel in Cairo, often called "the barrel bar" because the chairs (some at least) are made from barrel staves, an old British-era bar that survives pretty much intact, is by far the greatest bar in Cairo or in all of Egypt.

Not everyone will agree with this seemingly dogmatic, sweeping, but in fact quite factual, statement.

But they will quite simply be wrong.

Deceived perhaps by flashy modern bars, the slanders of Islamist critics, or simple ignorance, they should learn from this post.

(If you still disagree, start your own bloody blog and post your own misguided opinions.)

I will not exaggerate by saying, for example, that it is the greatest bar on the African continent, or the greatest bar since the unification of Egypt in 3100 BC, because I have no way of proving that, obviously.

But I'm pretty sure it's both, nonetheless.

Now, the video. Then a bit more. Via Zeinobia's indispensable blog, and produced by these folks, is this brief but wondrous profile of the man who has been barman at the barrel bar for more than three decades. In colloquial Egyptian Arabic, but with English subtitles:

The Windsor has been a favorite of mine for some 40 years. It stands on a side street not far from where the old Shepheard's stood until Black Saturday of 1952; I understand in British days, when the senior officers stayed at Shepheard's, the lesser officer ranks stayed here. I've stayed at the hotel, which can't threaten the five-stars, and eaten at the restaurant but forgotten it, but the bar is unforgettable.

More perhaps another time. Michael Palin of Monty Python fame did one of his world travelogues from the place, and it's one of the last surviving colonial-era bars in the capital. Do they still offer the day's newspapers in library sticks, like a British club? I hate colonialism, but damn, the Brits did good officers' bars wherever they went.

The Windsor hotel website is here. A few pictures:


David Mack said...

Thanks for this, Mike. A few of the retired British officers were still around in the mid-1960s when I was a Fulbright Scholar, and they obviously shared your affection for Cairo's faded charms.

Michael Collins Dunn said...


Of course in those days the old Bar Cecil was still there in Tawfiqiyya, too. It vanished aomewhere between 1978 and 1981 if memory serves.