Going to extremes
Sometimes a piece of trivia proves tempting, writes Gamal Nkrumah
It is hellishly hot outside and freezing cold inside. Customers come to chill out, quite literally. There are no potters at work, and you can't have a go at the wheel yourself. There are many ways to fight the heat and turn a deaf ear to the clangorous hullabaloo of Cairene traffic. You can enjoy peace and quiet in a cool place -- Potters' Café is one such hideout -- but don't expect too much.
The cacophony of cars and honking maniacs, the weird and wonderful youth of the American University of Cairo, and the preponderance of coffee shops characterise the city centre, Midan Al-Tahrir, where Potters' Café occupies a special niche, sandwiched between McDonald's and Pizza Hut. It is all pretty bizarre -- kitsch.
The despicable sounds of boy racers haring down the bustling streets of Cairo, and girls in tightly-fitted jeans wearing loads of make-up sporting what is derisively called the Spanish higab -- they all congregate at Potters' Café.
And, so do savvy middle-aged academicians, with their laptops and blackberries. They pop in for a cup of coffee, a fruit juice, or just in search of some peace and quiet. Outside, all hell is let loose. Police and ambulance sirens, and the throngs -- aimless youngsters loitering about and the teaming millions going about their daily business -- that is crazy Cairo for you. Who said Cairenes do not have to contend with the incessant roar of peddling street vendors and the buzzing of millions of pedestrians?
Potters' Café is a safe haven of sorts, and it is preferable by far to KFC. This eatery displays all the signs of a basement conversion. But why confine yourself to the basement? Its library is enchanting, rather tiny but full of exciting titles and intriguing authors. A flight of stairs and you are on the first floor -- this is where the couples escape to parley with their heartthrobs. The waiters turn a blind eye. Incidentally, for such a tiny place, Potters' Café swarms with a multitude of waiters.
If you are in a hurry, but need a mint tea or coffee, this is the perfect place to be. At Potters' Café there is a restful atmosphere, a strange ambiance. But to be quite frank, it is no place to eat. Yes, you can quench your thirst, but there is nothing on the menu to whet your appetite.
I tried a steak there; It was the mistake of my life. The meat was stringy and tasteless and, I suspect, straight out of some deep freezer and into the microwave. It was drenched in a revolting brownish yellow sauce. It was supposed to be a mustard-based concoction but was gluey and hideous.
The French fries were equally distasteful. Some were soggy and others were burnt and blackened. I refused to touch them. I ordered fresh guava juice to wash down the unpalatable meat, but to my horror it was anything but fresh. It tasted like one of those cheap bottled and preservative-laden juices. "Are you sure this juice is freshly-squeezed?" The waiter looked flustered. "Sure," he lisped, looking sideways. I could tell he was lying through his teeth.
I vowed never to frequent the Potters' Café again. However, a friend persuaded me three weeks later to have a coffee there. "I don't drink coffee," I protested. "Well, you can have cocoa instead." I toyed with the idea of hot chocolate, but the memory of that ghastly slab of animal flesh presented as steak instantly put me off. I wondered what animal that was.
Well, against my better judgement, my friend prevailed. I walked down those steps with trepidation. The basement was as dingy as ever. But, it suddenly hit me why such a sullen place was so popular: it is freezing cold. Indeed, it is perhaps the coldest spot in the hottest of Cairo's torrid summers. When it is unbearably muggy and the air hangs heavy with pollution outside, Potters' Café with its deep freeze atmosphere has its charms, I suppose. I must say, though, that I am not particularly keen on the polar atmosphere. Still, the hot chocolate was not bad. My friend said that her latté was just the way she likes it. Be that as it may, Potters' Café is not a place where you sup and dine.
Opposite AUC main building
Lunch for one: LE80