Vintage Cairo: 15 of the Oldest Restaurants, Bars and Cafes in the City
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
Cairo as a city has a pretty long and complex history -- it’s over 1,000 years old, after all. And while most of the metropolitan restaurants, bars and cafes in the city don’t have much of a shelf life (a ‘success story’ in Cairo is a place that’s been open for more than 10 years), there are a few places that have stood the test of time -- from 60 years to over 200 years old! Yep, that’s older than quite a few countries.
So whether you’re a visitor looking to get a drink, meal and feel for an older Cairo, or a local who wants to take a nostalgic walk down Cairo’s memory lane, these vintage spots will provide just that.
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1. Beit Zeinab Khatoon
Beit Zeinab Khatoon (which translates to ‘Zeinab Khatoon’s house’) is an old Mamluk house in the Darb Ahmar area of Old Cairo, close to Moez Street (for a full local’s guide to Moez Street, head here). It was originally built in 1486 with later additions in the Ottoman era. It’s named after its last owner, Zeinab Khatoon, the wife of prince Al-Sharif Hamza Al-Kharboutly. She’s an important figure in her own right though -- she took the risk of opening her home to wounded fighters in the Egyptian resistance against Napoleon’s French occupation in 1798.
Today Beit Zeinab Khatoon is a protected heritage site, and it has a cafe in its open courtyard where you can have shisha, tea and coffee while enjoying the historical architecture.
2. El Fishawy
Found in the world-famous Khan el Khalili bazaar (read our full guide to the market here) you’ll find Egypt’s most iconic ahwa (a small outdoor Egyptian cafe serving shisha), El Fishawy. Over 240 years ago a man named El Fishawy started offering coffee to his friends after evening prayers in a small alley in Khan el Khalili.
The tradition was continued by his descendants, adding shisha and other hot and cold drinks to their repertoire. It grew in popularity over the years, and is known for being a personal favorite of Nobel Laureate novelist Naguib Mahfouz, who is said to have written his Nobel-winning Cairo Trilogy in El Fishawy’s back room.
Today El Fishawy lives on much as it did in the past, pulling in large numbers of locals and tourists alike looking for a tea, shisha and the opportunity to people-watch. It’s open 24/7 and is particularly popular in Ramadan.
Founded over 100 years ago, Maison Groppi was a chocolatier, patisserie and tearoom established in Downtown Cairo by Swiss native Giacomo Groppi. It quickly became the most celebrated tearoom in the Middle East, to the extent that they would give Groppi chocolate as gifts to foreign royalty and other VIPs. Groppi was also the first chocolatier in Egypt to employ women. There were originally two branches in Downtown Cairo, one in Heliopolis and one in Alexandria, all extremely popular with the Egyptian elite, celebrities, British officers and wealthy expats.
The Groppi on Talaat Harb Square (previously Soliman Pacha Square) has been undergoing renovation for the past few years now.
4. The Barrel Lounge
The Barrel Lounge is in the Windsor Hotel in Downtown Cairo, which is mainly known for being a British Officers Club during the First World War. Little has changed decor-wise since those days, albeit the hotel being much older and more faded. Until now, their vintage ‘Barrel Lounge’ is as popular with modern Downtown bar-hoppers as it was with the British officers -- it got its name due to the seats being made of old wooden barrels.
You can read more about the Windsor here: 11 Historical Hotels In Egypt That You Can Still Stay At Today
5. Greek Club
Located above Groppi on Talaat Harb Square in Downtown Cairo, the Greek Club when it first opened was just that: a Greeks-only club where members could gather for dinner, drinks and live music.
It opened to the public in the 1950s, when Egyptians and visitors of all nationalities could enjoy its terrace, vaulted ceilings and Greek specialties. Today it’s still popular as a Downtown bar, but sadly has lost its authentic Greek feel and menu.
6. Cafe Riche
Probably the most famous restaurant and bar in Downtown Cairo, Cafe Riche has quite a history. It’s known for being a beloved meeting place of historical revolutionaries, intellectuals and prominent figures in modern Egyptian history. A few examples: it was here where members of the Egyptian resistance planned the 1919 revolution against the British; where an assassin lay in wait to attempt (and fail) to kill the last Coptic Prime Minister, Youssef Wahba Pacha; where King Farouk first saw his second wife, Nariman Sadek; where beloved singer Umm Kalthoum performed in 1923; and where Gamal Abdel Nasser planned the 1952 revolution. Like El Fishawy, Naguib Mahfouz was a regular patron as well -- his novel Karnak Cafe is based on Cafe Riche, its customers and their stories.
Relics of these people and times in history still adorn Cafe Riche’s walls until now.
One of the few vintage gems still left in the neighborhood of Korba in Heliopolis (Korba was envisioned and built by the Belgian Baron Empain), L’Amphitryon used to be a restaurant and bar popular with Heliopolis’ elite and wealthy expats. While the story behind its name and origins isn’t clear, it’s assumed it was founded by Greeks (although Germans in the area frequented it regularly and referred to it as a beer garden).
Today it’s a much shabbier version of its former self, but still has a nice street-facing outdoor section and an open terrace in the back where people go for a shisha and a beer and to partake in Egyptian mezzes and shawerma.
8. Maison Thomas
Maison Thomas is such a popular modern pizza place that most locals have no idea that it’s actually so old. Known for their thin-crust pizzas, Maison Thomas has four different branches throughout Cairo, with their Zamalek branch on 26th of July Street being their most iconic (and open 24/7!). Tarek Sharif, the son of world-famous Egyptian actor Omar Sharif (RIP), helped open a branch of Maison Thomas in the Red Sea resort town of El Gouna, which unfortunately is no longer open.
9. El Horreya
Built over the remains of Ahmed Orabi, an Egyptian officer who led a mutiny in 1879 against the Anglo-French loyalist Khedive Tewfik, El Horreya is one of the most famous cafes and bars in Downtown Cairo.
It has a distinct ‘cafeteria’-ish look, with bright lights, high ceilings and scattered tables. It’s open from the afternoon until 2 am, and was popular throughout the years with artists, poets, intellectuals, foreigners and expats and students from the nearby American University (their new campus is now in New Cairo). People go there for an affordable beer, to play chess or backgammon or just to chat.
10. Le Grillon
Originally a restaurant and beer garden, Le Grillon was famous for being the spot where Cairo’s well-heeled would gather for drinks and a meal before and after Umm Kalthoum’s performances in the nearby Qasr el Nil Theatre (and even during the intermission).
In the 50s, Le Grillon was popular with all the biggest names in Egyptian cinema: Roshdy Abaza, Sabah, Amina Rizk, Samia Gamal, Nadia Lotfy and more. This vintage restaurant has even witnessed some unforgettable scenes that had nothing to do with the movies, like when Fareed el Atrash had a heart attack there and the waitstaff had to rush him to the hospital, or how Abdelwahab was so specific about how his fruit was washed that he had the waiters bring him a pitcher of water to the table so he could wash the fruit himself.
Today it’s more shabby than chic, and we wouldn’t recommend eating there. But it’s still a good spot to go for a drink and a shisha in their closed terrace, and is a popular spot for those baladi bar hopping in Downtown Cairo.
11. A L’Americaine
Maison Groppi, the celebrated tearoom we discussed above, opened a chain of coffee/pastry shops called A L’Americaine for those who couldn’t afford Groppi. At the time Groppi owned its own farm of 1,400 feddans on Geziret el Dahab, a Nile island near Maadi. This farm provided the dairy, vegetables, herbs and exotic fruit used both in Groppi itself as well as A L’Americaine.
The quality of A L’Americaine dropped considerably after its nationalization in 1961, and unfortunately never recovered. Two branches still exist in Downtown Cairo, but are almost unrecognizable from their original selves of 70+ years ago.
12. Abou Shakra
Abou Shakra, the Egyptian cuisine restaurant known especially for their grills, first opened on the banks of the Nile in Downtown Cairo over 70 years ago. Equally popular with both Egyptians and foreigners, Abou Shakra started to implement the idea of tent celebrations and ‘Oriental Nights’ for foreigners both on the Nile and at the Pyramids way before the concept was as widespread and popular as it is now.. They also claim to be the first restaurant in Cairo to offer home delivery via motorbike.
They opened their second branch in 1989, and since then have snowballing in size -- Abou Shakra is now a huge national and regional chain of restaurants.
13. Andrea Mariouteya
Founded over 60 years ago, Andrea Mariouteya has been in the same family since its very beginning. This Egyptian restaurant was historically on the Mariouyeta canal, a Nile offshoot near the Pyramids. Besides the grills and Egyptian cuisine, Andrea Mariouteya was also a place you could enjoy a beer and shisha with your meal.
While it maintains the Mariouteya in its name, Andrea has a new home on the hill of New Giza, with great city views.
One of the most iconic Egyptian cuisine restaurants in Downtown Cairo, Felfela was known for years as a place to get fuul, taameya and other Egyptian classics while having a beer. It became a regular lunch spot with families on weekends and opened several other branches throughout the city.
It’s now a popular spot for tourists and nostalgic locals, and this dimly-lit and eclectically-decorated restaurant provides a window into the past through stories enthusiastically told by the waiters.
Built by a Greek couple in a passageway between two buildings in Downtown Cairo, this restaurant and bar was named after the town of Estoril in Portugal, where the couple had their honeymoon. Similar to other vintage resto-bars in Downtown, Estoril was a popular meeting place for political activists, writers, artists and intellectuals. One wall is dedicated to local art while the other is full of memorabilia and clippings of articles and other old press about Estoril in its heyday.
Estoril’s menu now is not much to write home about, but it remains a popular spot to have a beer and chat with the bartender about years past.
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