Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 July - 4 August 2004
Issue No. 701
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Alexandrian nights

It is not only the sea and the breeze that attract visitors to Alexandria. The city's summer nightlife is also great. Rasha Sadek writes

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Clockwise from top: Stanley Bey bridge, a favourite venue for night walks; young vacationers in Club White in Agami; spending the night in Green Plaza gives you the chance to enjoy many things in one place like shopping or sitting in one of the many cafés

Travolta and Genesis sang about summer nights, Dalida and many others sang in praise of Alexandria. But while no one has sung about Alexandrian nights, I discovered a week ago that the city sings its own song.

For many years now, Alexandria has taken good care of visitors who want to enjoy the evening as much as the morning. Discotheques have opened in Agami, as have cafés along the Corniche and entertainment complexes. What more could one want to fill the nights?

None of the poets or writers who took Alexandria as their muse have been very prolific about Agami, a small city lying to the west of Alexandria, which was especially popular in the 1940s not for its beaches but for its shooting. Hunters who were interested in shooting turtle- doves and quails came in from Europe. Later it became an exclusive resort for the Cairene and Alexandrian elites who prefer to spend peaceful, relaxing vacations.

Recently, however, Agami has been changing, starting to cater for those who want to relax during the day and party through the night. This change has rendered the area able to compete with Sharm El-Sheikh and some other Red Sea cities, and -- I have to say -- successfully.

Indeed, this change is not only taking place in Agami, but in Alexandria itself. After the Corniche was renewed, more greenery introduced and cleanliness enforced, the city has received a breath of new air with restaurants offering various cuisines, fast food chains, coffee shops and baladi cafés.

FORT AGAME: EM Forster gave Agami its name -- meaning the Persian Fort -- as he described it as a strategic point in the British naval attacks on Alexandria. Indeed, the discotheques in Agami can well be characterised as forts, as each is fenced with high walls, and is surrounded by parked four-wheel drives and sports cars. These mostly belong to Cairenes travelling for the weekend. A taxi stops every now and then to drop tourists off. It is not easy to find your way around Al-Hanafia Street -- where most Agami discotheques are located -- what with its numerous and narrow turns. So you had better arrange with a taxi driver who knows the finer details of the area.

The scene on the inside is totally different. Music is loud, all kinds of alcoholic and non- alcoholic drinks are served, and the party-goers dance away to Latin music, R&B, house and trance. The only catch? Discotheques only operate during the three months of summer -- from July till the end of September. Still, they are open all throughout the week but are more crowded and livelier from Wednesday to Saturday, when special parties are held and different programmes are introduced. Most discotheques in Agami are open-air or only partly roofed.

Agami discotheques have become very popular night retreats in Egypt during the past couple of years. When I'm desperate for a decent night out in the capital on a Thursday, many of my friends will surprise me by driving for two and half hours to Agami just to spend the night there and returning the next morning. It's worth the trip, I say.

To start off my latest trip to Agami, I headed to Tiwana. It is fenced with dark red walls, and bodyguards stand at the door, but don't worry. Getting in takes no time, provided you enter as a couple. Bear in mind that this rule doesn't only apply to Tiwana, but also to some other discotheques.

The minimum charge is LE50 including drinks. Tiwana is best on Wednesdays and Fridays till 3.30am. Starting August, Wednesdays will be dedicated to parties introducing foam nights and guest DJs on the open-air dance floor. The second floor of Tiwana is a restaurant offering Italian cuisine and shisha.

Al-Hanovill Street also boasts one of Agami's most talked-about discotheques: Club White, one of a chain, with its sister outlets also in Zamalek and Heliopolis in Cairo. Considered by Agamists as the destination of the elites, White is surrounded by greenery both within and beyond its walls. It is much more spacious than many other discotheque in Agami. In order to get in, you'll need to make a reservation or to know one of the frequentees or owners and to be accompanied by your partner.

The place is divided into two areas. The beach hosts a DJ and two dance floors and is open from morning till 1am. It offers a sunrise breakfast and a sunset dinner. The open air area is the club -- open from 10.30pm till 9am, with a DJ and high stairs leading to another dance floor.

During August, White is crowded and people don't restrict themselves to dancing in one area, but you'll see dancers to all kinds of music on chairs, stairs and around tables. Crazy? Wait till you go on Thursdays and Fridays when the place which can take 5,000 persons is packed with dancers.

But that's not all. White also hosts Lebanese nights on Wednesdays and plays oldies on Saturdays. The club is the only one in Agami offering classes in salsa and meringue dancing.

Attached to this part is a roofed seating area for shisha. The oriental decoration of this section makes it one good choice for spending the night. The entrance fee for Club White is LE50 excluding drinks.

Ten Club, on the other hand, is not really a club but a villa with a swimming pool. It is located in Shahr Al-Assal Street, hosting a DJ in its garden all week long, who works his best during weekdays. You can dance either inside the villa or beside the pool and make use of the garden bar. Entrance to Ten Club is free, and the club is open daily from 12am till 7am.

However, if you've had your fill of dancing the night away, Andrea, which plays soft music and is free to get into, is more for you. It opens every day, and peaks on Fridays and Saturdays. Andrea is located on Shahr Al-Assal Street.

If you're still in the mood to chill out but need to spice up your night a little, look no further than Michael's. The pub, which plays salsa music, opens from 11pm to 3.30am with a minimum charge LE100. Michael's is at its best on Saturdays and Sundays.

Caribbeano is a different story. Although it closes early -- at 8pm -- word has it that it is enjoyable as ever. People dance or just relax while listening to all kinds of music and sipping away at their drinks. The best part of it is that Caribbeano is right on the beach. And if you're dancing, your dance floor is the sand. But that's not all, if you're extra-energetic that day, you play beach volleyball or speedball or ride the water in a banana boat. Caribbeano opens at noon. It is located at Al-Bitash, at the end of Eighth Street.

ALL IN ONE: Alexandria is a goldmine of nights out. Besides the discotheques in hotels like Palestine's Dolphin, Ramada's Black Gold, Mercure's Romance Club and Sheraton's Aquarius, there are many spots that can fill your night with entertainment.

For instance you can head to the Green Plaza on the 15 May Bridge road, Semoha. The Green Plaza is a huge complex featuring a hypermarket, a fun-town for kids, coffee shops, a two-storey mall with about 370 shops and a big six-screen cinema complex.

In the Green Plaza lies the five-star Hilton Alexandria Green Plaza Hotel. On the second floor of the hotel is Nefertiti Bar, a pub open from 9am till 2am with a marvelous view of the plaza with its coloured lighting. Also on the ground floor of the hotel is the Hilton Abu Ali coffee shop, an open-air oriental café.

If you happen to be in Alexandria, the Green Plaza needs to be on your list of must-sees, especially if you are with your kids. The Kramanates fun-town in the plaza has many colourful bouncy castles where children jump up and down, and several other entertaining games with prices ranging from LE3 to LE15. But this can't be your only reason for visiting the complex: the many cafés, each styled differently from the next, provide a tough choice on where to spend your night. They are scattered around the complex that is shaped as an X, and surrounded by the shopping mall.

The oriental-style Asala Café is beautiful. Veggie's serves pies. They are both open-air and serve shisha much like Kawkab Al-Sharq, Moonlight and Al-Fishawi cafés. However that's not all, you still have the Maiosh coffee shop, divided into two areas -- indoor and outdoor -- and the Grand Caesar and Al-Khedewi cafés.

You also have plenty of other choices for snacks in the complex. Trianon serves Danish bakery and Brownies chocolate cakes and sweets. If you're aiming for lunch or dinner at the Green Plaza, take your pick from any of the restaurants scattered around the complex like the Pizza Queen that gives you a free pizza with every one you buy, and China Palace, a Chinese restaurant on the second floor. Shrimpo and the Fish World serve fresh seafood. There also are a number of fast food chains like A&W and Abu Mazen.

If you want to dine, dance and drink in one go, head for the second floor of the Green Plaza. T- Café introduces Western and oriental menus serving alcoholic drinks. It opens daily from 12pm to 1am, hosting a DJ on Thursdays and Fridays. Cordon Rouge is a Western restaurant opening from 10am to 1.30am.

Women who enjoy shopping will love the stores in the Green Plaza. Watch out men, for your evening might be cut short if your partners have gone shopping. Most shops in the complex sell branded clothes.

THE CORNICHE: You can never run out of things to do in Alexandria: fun and entertainment follow you wherever you go. The best part is that the simplest things might turn out to be the most exciting. For instance, Alexandria has always been known for its Corniche. And it still is. The Corniche is the heart of the city, for it speaks its history and its people's. It extends along the sea for 20 kilometres.

So why don't you head to the Corniche at night and simply go for a long walk? It's worth it, I tell you. Your stroll will undoubtedly bring you face to face with all kinds of lively scenes. You might see a couple walking hand in hand smiling, or arguing; a family having a drink or eating ice creams; a group of girls having a walk and a talk; or boys laughing out loud and giving each other a high-five; you might also catch some athletes jogging to the fresh breeze. Indeed, it's all about the Corniche.

If you get tired of walking, head to one of the cafés facing the Corniche; most of them are baladi cafés taking you a couple of decades back to old Egypt. Or maybe that's how they struck me, coming from a loud, never-relaxed environment. If you get hungry, there are also various fast food chains.

MORE OF EVERYTHING: In various parts in the city of Alexandria lie some more complexes that could fill your evening. First, there's the complex called Downtown featuring a hypermarket, a bank, some stores, and various restaurants and cafés. There's Romantic, a restaurant -- offering a Western menu -- and Al-Diwan -- an open air restaurant. There are also Runaway and Marine cafés and a Pizza Piano.

Also, opposite to Downtown, there is the mega-mall of Carrefour. Both of these malls are situated at the entrance of Alexandria, coming from the desert road.

In the same area lies the International Park. The park hosts some cafés and restaurants like Acasia and Jungle, which is also a restaurant playing light music and open from 1pm till 1am. Jungle is a tea garden decorated with waterfalls.

So, if you have been worrying about what to do and where to go after you've relaxed and enjoyed the beaches of Alexandria, your problem has been solved.

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