It was nearly sunset by the time our battered black & white got us the the Four Seasons in the Garden District. After getting past the anti-terror counter measures in the driveway, we entered the blissfully cool lobby, went through a metal detector, then made for the desk.
Despite several previous email conversations with the hotel, they had us down for a room with a single bed. We explained to the desk that there were two of us, and clearly this would not be possible. The desk refused to admit their mistake (annoying), but agreed to find us a room with two beds. They put us in the original room and told us they would move us when they made up a room with two beds.
After thirty or so minutes, we were moved to a room on a high floor facing the Nile. I went out on the balcony to get some quick snaps of the spectacular sunset over the river.
Since it was getting late, we called down to the concierge and asked them to recommend a place that served Egyptian cuisine. In my opinion, when you go to a new country, you have to try the local stuff, you can eat Sushi or French food anywhere. The concierge recommended a place called Abu El Sid and made us a reservation.
A friend of mine from Miami has an Egyptian cousin who lives in Cairo, so I had been in contact with him prior to N and I arriving. I asked him if we wanted to join us for dinner, but he said he was busy, and that he would meet us at the hotel after for drinks.
We grabbed a black & white, handed him the address of the restaurant in Arabic and had one of the hotel staff tell him in Arabic where we were going. So, when the cab pulled up in front of a restaurant and pointed, we figured it was the place. Just to be sure we asked “Abu El Sid?” while pointing and he said “yes, yes.”
It was not Abu El Sid, and things got weirder. We walked up to the hostess stand at whatever this place was, they asked what name the reservation was under, N gave his last name, and they nodded as if they had the reservation and started walking us inside. N caught a glimpse of the menu the waiter was holding and asked if we were at Abu El Sid and finally it was confirmed that we were in the wrong place.
No one seemed to know exactly where Abu El Sid was. One guy told us it was 20 minutes away. Another said it was across the street. We got into another black & white who again claimed that of course he knew the address…he of course did NOT know the address. Around his third time circling the same block, stopping and asking people for directions and periodically pointing at places that were clearly not Abu El Sid and trying to convince us they were, it became apparent he had no clue. I called the hotel, put the concierge on the phone with the driver, and he talked him through the directions. We finally made it to the restaurant, only about 45 minutes late for our reservation.
The restaurant was very empty, so we were seated without issue. I don’t know anything about Egyptian cuisine, and apparently neither did N, so we largely deferred to the waiter. He brought us an assortment of Egyptian starters, all of which were excellent. The only downside was that there was so much food to start with that the main courses were superfluous. My main was some sort of roasted chicken on the bone with rice and a green paste that I think was okra (maybe?). It was ok, but I was pretty stuffed from the staters and mainly pushed it around on my plate and drank Sahara beers.
Post-dinner in the decidedly Indiana Jones-ish Abu El Sid (although I kept hearing it as Abu Nazir in my head), we got a hassle free cab back to the Four Seasons.
I met up with my friend’s cousin in the lobby, and N met us in the bar. The Cousin told me that perhaps 5-10% of Egyptians drink alcohol (he was amongst them), but that in general, Egyptians like to party and are laid back about alcohol use.
He was of the opinion that the Egyptians do not want any form of radical islam, and that the Muslim Brotherhood would be a moderate force. He said that the radical islamists in Egypt were a minority faction, largely influenced by people who had spent time in the Gulf States in the 70’s and 80’s and had adopted a higher level of involvement. He stressed that Democracy was new to Egypt though, and that it would be a tough growing process. So far, his assessment seems to be right on.
After a few cocktails, the three of us hopped a cab and The Cousin said he was bringing us to one of his favorite bars. There was a small line outside, and apparently their normal policy is that no men are allowed inside unless they come with girls. Luckily, The Cousin knew the door people, he did some finessing, and we were all good. The bar, Cairo Jazz Club, was packed. They were playing current world hits and pretty much everyone was drinking. In addition to the drinking, the girls were as tarted up as any you might find in the U.S. or W.Europe and they were grinding it out on the dancefloor. This is not the nightlife scene I had pictured when I thought of Cairo…a pleasant surprise.
We met some of The Cousin’s friends, and made a failed run at a bachelorette party group. Drawing back on our sophisticated fraternity courting moves, N and I approached the group and just asked if they wanted to do shots. It turned out, none of them drank alcohol. What sort of bachelorette party goes to a bar and DOESN’T drink alcohol? Oh well, cultural differences.
After Cairo Jazz Club, we bounced around to three or four other bars, none of which were as crowded or as fun. The Cousin explained that since it was summer, most of the party people in Cairo would be out of town on the coast and as such, it wouldn’t be super fun. We had our last drinks after 4am, and bid adieu to The Cousin who had to get home to his wife. By this point N and I felt perfectly fine tramping around Cairo in the middle of the night without escort. Shortly thereafter, we snagged a cab and went back to the hotel. In the morning there would be pyramids.
Four Seasons Nile Plaza Report Card
Pros: Great lobby, decent bar, nice rooms with balconies facing the Nile (great sunsets and you can vaguely see the pyramids in the distance).
Cons: Hotel staff don’t speak great English and the level of service is so-so.
Verdict: If I was staying IN Cairo and not out near the Pyramids, I would absolutely stay here on my next trip. It’s the best hotel in the city.