With its intertwining passageways hidden amidst towering old buildings, its streets buzzing with bickering and laughter and its electric energy that will always manage to keep anyone on their feet, Downtown Cairo is both one of the most interesting and adventurous areas of Egypt’s capital.
Having been the central backdrop of various historic events, as well as witnessing how the country has evolved throughout the years, Downtown Cairo holds layers of rich history. Much like a time capsule, this area of Cairo has managed to keep various iconic spots intact, and places that have hosted various iconic moments and figures throughout Egypt’s recent history.
In fact, even as one merely walks the streets of Downtown Cairo, they will be greeted by the Neo-renaissance architectural style of its surrounding late 19th and early 20th century buildings, as well as the remnants of eras come and gone, which can be seen in the withering storefronts and signs, where old clashes with new.
That said, there are a few famous Downtown bars and cafes that are truly iconic to Egypt’s history and have managed to stand the test of time, as they still operate to this very day. The following are a few examples of these ‘must visit’ spots that will be sure to transport you through time, while maintaining a contemporary setting.
Perhaps the most iconic and historic spot on the list, Groppi is one of the oldest still surviving cafés in Downtown Cairo. First established in 1891 by a Swiss man by the name of Giacomo Groppi, the famous corner café located at the Talaat Harb square is currently undergoing renovations.
Back in the early 20th century, Groppi was once the go-to spots for Cairo’s elite, offering a variety of European desserts in addition to alcoholic beverages. This café and restaurant has been such a staple in Egyptian society throughout its recent history that almost anyone will recognize the name today. To get a slightly better feel of what Groppi was once like, one can read about this iconic spot in books such as Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club.
Aptly named ‘Freedom’, this café and bar is known to be a haven for activists, intellectuals and artists alike. Having flourished in the early 20th century, El Horreya is a simple high ceiling space, buzzing with conversation and ideas. Offering tea, coffee and beer, El Horreya carries its legacy of attracting young Egyptian artists, activists and intellectuals, as well as expats and the occasional old-timer one might find sitting alone in a far-off corner.
Café Riche is most famously known for being one of the main hang out spots of the late Nobel prize-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. Established in 1908, this cozy little café has also been known to be a hub for revolutionaries, artists and intellectuals throughout the ages. Café Riche was previously owned by German, French, and Greek businessmen, before finally settling in Egyptian hands in the 1960s.
Part of the famous Windsor Hotel, the Windsor Bar and Restaurant pays homage to a time when British soldiers would roam its halls. Windsor Hotel was originally established in 1893, and it was once a British officers’ club during the first world war.
Although the hotel and building itself are now withering away with cracks in the walls and rundown furniture, up until very recently its bar and restaurant were still very popular with contemporary youths. Windsor is currently closed and it is unclear whether the place is undergoing renovations.
Tucked away in a small passageway between buildings, Le Grillon is a hidden gem of historic value. Opened in 1941, this café and bar was once the go-to spot for those wanting to enjoy a drink or two before or after one of Om Kalthoum’s monthly concerts.
Despite losing some of its charm throughout the years, Le Grillon is still a greatly enjoyable venue that attracts many locals and tourists alike.
Having undergone renovations recently, Downtown Cairo’s Greek Club was originally established in 1906. It was initially created as a hub for Greek residents of Cairo only, but it eventually opened its doors for everyone following the 1952 revolution. This wonderful venue includes a beautiful indoor section that boasts decorative Neo-renaissance architectural elements, as well as an atmospheric outdoors area that one will always find bustling with all sorts of people to this very day.