We weren’t really surprised when a couple of weeks ago Cairo was announced to be the ‘world’s most nocturnal city’. We officially claimed the title ‘the city that never sleeps’ away from New York and shall wear that title with pride (and with bags underneath our eyes from staying up all night). Question is: What is it exactly that keeps us awake? You might want to blame it on the everlasting noise and light but no doubt the Cairo nightlife also plays a big part.
When out for a night, Zamalek and its surrounding areas are usually the most obvious options for the majority of people because of the variety of well known bars, clubs and restaurants. Going out here typically means you have to dress up to the max and be very friendly to the bouncer – hoping he’ll allow you in so you can have the pleasure of indulging in some overpriced concoction of several spirits while dancing the night away.
But for those a bit tired of the high-life party scene, a pub scene is emerging and Stella (an age-old Egyptian beer brand) has been mounting efforts to restore what has only recently been known as “baladi bars” – bars scattered around Cairo and Alexandria which have always served local spirits and offer a “drink after work” for Egypt’s working class.
Although Stella’s focus has been on the downtown “baladi bar” scene, recently the beer brand ventured into yet uncharted territory and restored four bars in Shubra. Yes, you read it correctly; Shubra is on its way to being the “in scene” for Cairo’s pub-lovers. But this is not Shubra’s first time in the entertainment limelight – the district was once known for its vivid nightlife with clubs, theatres and bars all around. Furthermore it was the place where Mohamed Ali built a great palace for himself and the vicinity was also home to famous singer Dalida.
The bars restored by Stella are all located around Shubra Street and are in close proximity to each other, making it the perfect place to have an old-fashioned pub crawl. Stella celebrated the renovations by introducing a group of enthusiastic Stella and pub lovers to the new leg of their acclaimed “baladi bar hop” an event that had pub-lovers walking the streets of downtown last year to visit bars like Shahrazad and the Windsor.
And how could organizers boost the fun and fabulousness a little further? Well, horse carriages, of course! A league of horse carriages (hanateer) took us to Taverna, the first bar on the list. Taverna is located at 45 Shubra Street across from the Premoda warehouse store. The interior is bright with Stella paraphanelia and Stella logos on the walls, on the lamps and on the chairs. A literal highlight of the decor is the empty Stella bottles that function as lamps giving the place an almost art deco retro look.
As opposed to most baladi bars in downtown, which are usually considerably confined spaces, Taverna is pretty spacious and takes up two floors. As per usual in a baladi bar, you are presented with healthy snacks with your beer such as cucumber and tomato slices, chickpeas and fava beans. Additionally Taverna is very wallet-friendly with a half-a-litre bottle of beer setting you back only 9LE. You are further cooled down from the still warm Cairo evenings with air conditioning and entertainment is provided by small televisions. The better part of entertainment however is provided by the regulars. Mingling a bit with them can lead you to very interesting anecdotes and discussions. Patrons are very friendly and welcome everyone stepping in to their territory. Beer is not the only item on the menu; you can also sip on gin, whiskey or try out local brandy … if you want an evening you will never remember again.
From Taverna you can stroll a few buildings down the street to Baron Bar at 39 Shubra Street. Baron has a similar set up and decor. Baron is equally wallet-friendly and here too the clients are very agreeable and will spontaneously burst out signing the national anthem.
After knocking back a few beers, we headed to the final bar on our list: Ciao, located on the rooftop of the Happy Dreams Hotel (no we didn’t make this name up, this is the actual name) on 28 Ahmed Helmy Square. From the open air rooftop on the eleventh floor, you have a nice view over the Shubra and downtown area. The hotel is situated just behind the Ramsis train station and the constant hectic scenes at the station provide nice distraction. The ultimate plus point of Ciao are the two pool tables. Ciao is very big so when with a large group this place is superb.
So it seems Shubra’s night life is now just one more reason why Cairo never sleeps. So before you complain that Cairo’s nightspots are too pretentious or that you are always bumping into the same crowd … venture out of Zamalek and head to Shubra.
Remember to print out the baladi bar map on to www.stella1ofus.com – particularly if this is your first time crawling the pubs of Shubra. Stella has already announced the renovation of an additional five bars so more crawling is on the horizon. Support the economy and drink local!