Spirited Traveller: Cairo's drinking rules
A view of Cairo, Egypt. (Shutterstock)
The ancient city of Cairo bustles with modern nightlife - and this is true even during the month-long fasting holiday of Ramadan. The long days may be quiet, locals say, but at night the city lights up with activity.
"There is a lot to see and discover in terms of bars in Cairo, so it would be a shame if the business traveller didn't venture outside of his hotel bar," advises Soraya Morayef, a Cairo-based journalist and travel blogger, and former managing editor of Cairo360.com.
"There's rarely a quiet night or an uncrowded night."
However, there appears to be a litany of unwritten rules for enjoying a night out in Cairo:
1. Start late. "Drinking starts late," Morayef explains. "Usually at nine for bars, eleven for jazz clubs and midnight for clubs. Some bars shut 'early' at 1am, while others operate until almost 4am."
2. Drink beer - or don't drink at all. "The iconic drink is beer," Morayef says. "Specifically Stella, a local brand that has been around for ages and seems to be a firmly intrinsic factor in the urban drinking culture. A testament to beer's popularity here is that some downtown bars in Cairo serve only beer."
Although standard cocktails - mojitos, gin & tonics and the like - can be found at many bars and clubs, many Muslims don't drink. As a result most bars also offer non-alcoholic cocktails, such as "Saudi Champagne", a mix of apple juice and sparkling water, at the Four Seasons hotel.
3. Note who you'll be drinking with. A young and "scarily trendy" crowd frequents fashionable bars such as Amici and Bar D'O (both 20 Taha Hussein St., New President Hotel), and Risas (Maxim Boat, Saraya El Gezira St.) across from the Cairo Marriot Hotel in Zamalek. Meanwhile, at Tamarai, a nightclub with a tight reservation list and an impeccable view of the Nile River, keep an eye out for celebrities and other Cairo elite.
Finally, "artistic, intellectual, activist and hippie crowds" mingle in the downtown area near Tahrir Square. "These bars offer cheap drinks and great atmosphere - that is, if you enjoy eavesdropping on politicians' arguments and watching famous intellectuals interact," Morayef quips. The Greek Club (28 Mahmoud Bassyouni St.) is a particular favourite with expatriates, thanks to its outdoor terrace. ("Good luck finding a ventilated indoor bar in Cairo," Morayef adds.)
4. Tippling rules for Ramadan. Thirsty travellers should be aware that many bars and clubs close for the duration of the holiday, and those that stay open may not serve alcohol. Your best bet may be a hotel bar that caters to business travellers, such as the Four Seasons or the Kempinski. Or find an alternative vice - after dark (and after Ramadan concludes), tobacco is widely available.