Marriott Garden Cafe
By Juergen Stryjak
Some months ago, the great British ethnic-pop diva with Egyptian roots, Natasha Atlas, told me during a telephone call, that there wouldn't be a better place in Cairo for a relaxing late afternoon lunch in March then the Marriott Garden Caf. That seems to be a common opinion, as one week ago on a sunny Friday afternoon I saw the famous Egyptian popstar Amr Diab sitting at the table next to us, with friends or family or both, I don't know. But March has finished, and as every year beginning from April the 1st the garden no longer closes at 11:00 pm during the summer months. It becomes a perfect place for spending warm summer nights, too.
Located behind a romantic palace, built by the Khedive Ismail for the French empress Eugenie, for the occasion of the Suez Canal's grand inauguration 1869, the garden looks like a historical painting with well-dressed people sitting in bamboo chairs under illuminated palm-trees, next to classic statues and cast-iron pillars. The feel of the atmosphere is exclusive, but that wouldn't be reason enough for me to visit the place occasionally.
Another important reason is that the Marriott Garden doesn't impose a minimum cover charge. This is quite unusual for places of this caliber, in Egypt. From time to time, I have read of such a cover charge in the Marriott Garden, but as often I have been there, I have never had to pay for more than I consumed, even if it was only a cappucchino for 2 Dollars or one bottle of mineral water for three persons. I consider this generous behavior as being a normal if not a necessary gesture for such noble places, but many of similar Cairene cafs never even dream of giving up that bad habit of charging a minimum.
Feeling invited in such a way, I found myself spending more and more nights at the Marriott Garden, with Egyptian friends or guests from abroad, with my wife or with colleagues, just for one hour before we went to another place or till late at night.
Food and alcoholic beverages are rather expensive, a pizza goes for around eight Dollars, a local Stella beer, the cheapest one, costs around three Dollars. The view and atmosphere are free, including sometimes the chance to watch the wedding party of an Egyptian upper-class couple inside the palace, especially on Thursdays and on Saturdays. One just needs to walk through the halls of both stories of the building occasionally, which by the way are impressively beautiful and thanks to the private Marriott management, in excellent condition.
Late spring time and summer the rooftop terrace of the palace changes into a romantic open-air cinema, where one is allowed to eat, to drink and to smoke a shisha (or waterpipe), during the movie. However, here you have to pay a minimum charge of LE 40 ($10) per person.
Marriott Garden. Marriott Hotel. Sarayah Al-Gezirah St. 16, Zamalek, Cairo. Telephone: 27358888