Arts & Culture

Café Riche: Egypt’s Revolutionary Location

Café Riche: Egypt’s Revolutionary Location

Cafe Riche
Exterior of Café Riche | c. Newsweek

Café Riche is a cozy temple for the initiated: strangers gather in clusters, exchange book briefs under an undated photograph of Um Kalthoum, and sip sugared, home-brewed tea. There’s an air of knowing, maybe even intrigue; from revolutionaries to renegades, Café Riche has hosted some of Egypt’s greatest thinkers and sweetest songbirds for over a century.

And it has always been this way: select, alluring, enigmatic.

Cairo's Historical Café Riche In Pictures - Scoop Empire
Photos Left to Right: Riad El Sonbaty, Um Kalthoum, Ahmed Rami | c. ScoopEmpire

As one of Cairo’s most infamous spots, Café Riche was established in the early 20th century by a French national with a penchant for a good time and a better drink. It was passed down from owner to owner several generations until finding its name intertwined with the Abdel-Malek family. Located in the heart of Cairo’s downtown, a historic location for an enduring cultural landmark, Café Riche has a fabled reputation for accommodating intellect and, on some occasions, danger.

Local legend has it that Gamal Abdel-Nasser organized the Free Officers at the cafe, prior to overthrowing late King Farouk I in a 1952 coup d’état. Ibrahim Mansour, intellectual and El-Sadat detractor, was put in cuffs after an fervent political tirade against the 1970 Israel-Egypt peace treaty at the café. Literary critic Safinaz Kazem’s own arrest followed shortly after, within Riche.

Waiter at Café Riche | c. Melaine in Misr
Naguib Mahfouz at Cafe Riche | Photograph by: Athens Lingua

Café Riche was nothing if not riddled with political espionage – but it was also a home for romantics. Riche’s regulars included a famed repertoire of literary names. Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz would pen his novels in one corner, as poets Salah Jaheen and Amal Donkul occupied another. Riche was “a meeting point for intellectuals [and] a rallying point for political activists.”

This matchbox cafe was a spot to measure out Egypt’s finest sociocultural revolutions, and curry favor with its most debonair and daunting figureheads.

Over the years, however, the glamorous patina has faded just enough to show some cracks. While the era has moved forward onto grander, sleeker service, Café Riche suffers some undeniable faults in the 21st century light; with “overpriced” and “unseasoned” food, many wonder whether the famous cafe has succumbed to its own legend and become complacent in the process.

Both foreigners and Egyptians are quick to remark about the staff, with strong words such as “tasteless” and “rude” featuring heavily in reviews. It appears that the bygone era steeped in intellectualism has instead been replaced by “shout[ing] matches” between staff members and half-cold meals. Even the very essence of luxury has been stripped, with waiters donning questionable, classist uniforms that connote subservience.

Perhaps most damning, is a Trip Advisor review which summarizes the Café Riche experience as “full of history, alright; with a lot of dirt and dust.”

It appears that despite the grandeur and wanderlust Café Riche emits from the outside, its fabulous history is not enough to overshadow its present mediocrity. If it’s legacy, Café Riche delivers – if its cuisine, perhaps it’s better looking elsewhere for now.

Netflix Announces First Arabic Original Film "Perfect Strangers"
Egyptian Fans Celebrate 20 Years of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings

Subscribe to our newsletter

Arts & Culture

With a heart for radio and an appetite for culture, Mona is a writer and illustrator based in Cairo. At the Erasmus University Rotterdam, she obtained a BSc and MA in Media, Culture, and Society, while actively writing for the faculty magazine. After graduating, Mona was an academic advisor at the American University in Cairo, as well as Managing Director of a small, campus-based advertising firm. Gears shifting, her knack for cultural research took over - enter: Egyptian Streets. Mona’s focus is tapered to issues of identity politics, culture, and social architecture.

More in Arts & Culture

Funny Girls: Exploring the New Wave of Egyptian Women Stand-Up Comedians

Farah Rafik6 February 2023

Cirque du Soleil’s OVO is Coming to Egypt for the First Time

Amina Abdel-Halim1 February 2023

Egyptian Actress Shines in Netflix’s New Unconventional Series ‘Kaleidoscope’: Review

Amina Zaineldine and Farah Rafik28 January 2023

Why Khairy Beshara’s Cult Classics Are More Relevant Now Than Ever

Amina Abdel-Halim22 January 2023

The Egyptian Streets’ Team Recommends: Books to Read in Your 20s

Farah Rafik21 January 2023

New Aten Museum in Minya to Be Open for the Public

Egyptian Streets14 January 2023

Wegz to Share Stage with American Rapper Travis Scott at Abu Dhabi Festival

Mona Abdou9 January 2023

World’s Largest Floating Book Fair Arrives in Egypt’s Port Said

Egyptian Streets4 January 2023