Vintage Cairo: 17 of the Oldest Restaurants, Bars and Cafes in the City
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.
You might also like: 14 Egyptian Dessert Shops and Patisseries More Than 50 Years Old
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.