Egyptian Night Life - Coffeehouse Tales

Night Life in Egypt

Volume II, Number 1 January 1st, 2001

Coffeehouse Tales By Juergen Stryjak Who believes, nightlife is only about beer, wine and cocktails, dancing and pop music, should start a tour through Cairos rich teahouse and street caf scene, especially after sunset and especially during the warmer months of the spring, summer and autumn.


Compared to other Arabic cities, Damascus, Amman and Tunis for example, it seems that all of the tea- and coffeehouses, which have disappeared these cities with the good old says, have moved to Cairo. No neighborhood without the muffled omnipresent noise of board games, the scraping sound of little metal tables, incessantly being arranged by the waiter, like a marching band, into new formations, the bubbling of the shisha pipes and the tangle of voices. These places are integrated into every neighborhood and are part of the essence of Egyptian life, as common as the butcher shop or grocery around every corner.

Many tourists avoid entering such popular places for whatever reasons, all of which arent worth mentioning. These places are safe, funny, cozy and interesting, ideal locations to glide over into the hour after midnight or later, chatting with friends or strangers and watching people.

Egyptian women usually dont enter teahouses and street cafs, at least not in lower class areas. This doesnt mean that these places are not safe. To sit in neighborhood cafs would give Egyptian women, housewives, without a doubt a bad social image, due to the conservative nature of the Egyptian society. But the society is changing, more cafs, especially those popular among young people in neighborhoods like Mohandessin, Zamalek, Maadi, Heliopolis or Nasr City, are visited by Egyptian women, too. Female foreigners, in fact, foreigners in general, are welcome everywhere.

The prices are reasonable, if not surprisingly cheap. Tea, Turkish coffee ("ahwa"), soft drinks, juice, karkadee, a water pipe and much more all this comes for 50 Piaster (12 cent) up to 3 Egyptian Pound (75 cent). If a foreigner orders a tea, he most probably will get a brewed teabag, Lipton for example, which is, of course, less tasty and less romantic than what the Egyptians drink. For getting served the latter one, simply ask for "shai ala bosta", the so-called "tea for postmen", quickly brewed tea leafs, two spoons of sugar per (small) glass already added.

The mouthpieces of waterpipes (shisha) are supposed to transmit diseases occasionally, as for example Hepatitis A, although nobody is really sure about that. More and more coffeeshops hand out disposable mouthpieces from plastic. Just ask for it! Some nice popular coffeehouses in Cairo:

El Fishawi. Right in the heart of the Khan Al-Khalili, near to the Mosque El-Hussein, some meters next to the entrance of the El-Hussein Hotel. A legend among Cairos coffeehouses, Ottoman style, claims to be the oldest continuously working caf in town and has witnessed lots of famous guests, as for example Jean-Paul Sartre or Naguib Mahfouz. Suitable for Egyptian women, too. Plenty of similar coffeehouses are nearby.


Sahret Soliman. Al-Bustan Al-Said St., Downtown. A simple open air caf located in a narrow alley, entrance left to the Caf Riche, Talaat Harb St. 17, near Talaat Harb Square. This caf is popular among self-styled intellectuals, writers and writer wanna-bes, students, journalists from the nearby Middle East News Agency MENA and is also suitable for Egyptian women. The caf changes its name frequently from Sahret Soliman (Flower of Soliman) to Sahret Al-Bustan (Flower of the Garden) and back.

Ahwet El-Horriya. Al-Falaki Square, Downtown, located at the northern end of the pedestrian bridge. A little hidden place with great atmosphere where Egyptian beer is served.

Ahwet el-Shams. Taufiqiyya, Downtown, This caf is located in a small narrow alley between 26th July St. and Souq Al-Taufiqiyya. Enter Souq Al-Taufiqiyya from Orabi Street, turn to the left after some meters. There are interesting wall paintings up to the ceiling. This spot is popular among backpackers and tourists from nearby budget hotels.