Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Crunked in Cairo
I know, extremely important topic of discussion. But you would actually be surprised by the number of people who have asked me about the drinking scene in Cairo. I am by no means an alcoholic expert, but nor am I am amateur, so I will tell you what my own experience has been.
The drinking scene here can be roughly divided into three major categories: nice Restaurants/hotels, shaaby bars, and house parties. Cairo is an international city, a tourist town, and also a multi-religious scene. So despite the fact that Egypt is 90 percent Muslim, there is quite an alcohol flow. Also remember that not all those Muslims adhered to the religious ban on alcohol, just as not all Christians go to church on Sundays. This means that you can get alcohol in pretty much all the nice restaurants and hotel bars. An exception to this is the famous case of the Grand Hyatt, whose Saudi local owner recently banned alcohol, dumped an estimated 8 million dollars worth of the goods, and infuriated the international corporation. My friends and I usually treat ourselves to a few local beers whilst eating out, but it never gets too crazy, as these drinks are a bit pricey. They really hit your wallet if you head to some of the clubs inside the hotels. One club, called "Latex" (thats a whole other blog entry) charges an arm and a leg for water, let alone a martini.
The Shaaby bar is by far your best deal for beer, outside of bringing the goods straight to a house party. Sha'ab in Arabic means "People" so "shaaby" is "of the people" "local" or just "chill-no frills-kinda-place". Its no coincidence that shaaby sounds an awful lot like shabby, as these bars can be perfectly described as tattered. These bars tend to be full of seedy male Egyptians getting away from their wives and kids for a bit, and young Americans, happy to find the closest thing they can find to their local bar. Kicking back $1.50 20 ounce beers, Stellas, the night can be wasted and enjoyed in the halls of this joint. The staff knows your face, if not your name, and is quick with another beer and another dish of "timriz" which are little salty beans, the best drinking food ever. The air is full of the smoke of the patrons, and the exhaust of being located smack in the middle of downtown. As the green bottles stack up--they leave them on the table in order to keep a bill--you begin to get cravings for koshery, the Egyptian street food of choice. Luckily, right down the street is sure to be a koshery stand. What more could you need?
If you prefer the private drinking scene, Cairo is certainly full of house parties. In fact, I would say this is indeed the method of choice for Cairo's drinking expat community. I think these parties function pretty much the same way no matter where you are in the globe, the only difference is that in the middle of the night, you pinch yourself, and remind yourself. "No, you aren't at Alpha Sig, you are in Egypt." and then continue to dance. Also, instead of picking up your goods at the local corner store, you go to either Christian grocery stores, or to the notorious Egyptian chain of alcohol stores, "Drinkies". Seriously, if you already felt guilty about drinking, theres nothing like "drinkies" to make you feel like a college freshmen. If you consider house parties anywhere you can transport alcohol with your friends, you can also include the felluka rides on the Nile. Nothing beats sipping a few cold ones with your best friends in Egypt, and watching the sunset over the Nile.
Before I make Cairo sound like the next Cancun, I would like to say something about maintaining sensitivity. Despite the incredible accessibility of alcohol here, one has to remember that for most Egyptians, drinking is not acceptable. I do think that they maintain a point of view of "Each unto his own" and can tolerate non-Muslims drinking, as they understand that in our culture and religion, it is not forbidden. However, its always important for us to remember that we are guests here in their country. Even if they can tolerate our drinking habits, we shouldn't stumble in the streets and make a spectacle of ourselves and our disrespect for their culture. However, this is of course tricky when alcohol is involved, but this is where your friends come in. My motto has always been, "Friends don't let friends make drunken asses of themselves in conservative societies." Its not as catchy as the M.A.D.D. slogan, but if you ever party in Cairo, it may help to keep it in mind.