Egypt, April 20, 2007
Egypt is dry and more than one sense of the word
This afternoon was clear and sunny, a usual occurrence in Cairo, and for me, the perfect time to have a beer in a riverside cafÃ©. I chose a well appointed open restaurant, with great views of the majestic Nile, complete with feluccas sailing upstream. Yet I fled disappointment and dry mouthed. Why?
Egypt is a mainly Muslim country, and while it is relatively liberal and secular, public consumption of alcohol is still a social taboo. There isn't any beer, wine, or spirits in a normal riverside cafÃ©, or even most local restaurants. I knew this before I went, but it wasn't until I was confronted by an embarrassed Cairo waiter whispering to me like I was asking for porn, that I realized exactly how dry Egypt is.
If you want a drink with dinner, or just a beer in the afternoon, you're pretty much confined to either high-end Western hotels (I was in the Sheraton Galae Square) or Western-focused restaurants. Sidewalk cafes only serve tea or coffee and smoking hookah.
There are a few local bars, but no one recommended them as fun places for me to go. Instead, the Western restaurants become de-facto bars and then nightclubs as the evening progresses.
One night I went out with two local geeks to La Bodega, what I thought was a sedate restaurant. After our leisurely dinner, one of my companions and I retired to the more energetic bar. it was only when I wandered the restroom that I realized I was missing half the action.
A whole other section of the space was reserved for a cranking little nightclub, complete with beautiful men and smoking hot women. Many who were actually smoking. If there is a vice in Egypt, its cigarettes.
If you're more into drinking alone, there are a liquor stores in town, but they mainly sell beer and wine. In fact, I was told on the flight in that if I wanted my own bottle, I should buy in duty free.
While I enjoy a drink, I wasn't that in need to booze. It's actually quite nice to be sober on the Nile.