Before the 1952 revolution, Alexandria’s coffee houses, patisseries and tearooms were the hub of bourgeois society, where artists, writers and socialites philosophized and pursued affairs, like Durrell’s characters in The Alexandria Quartet. Since then some have closed, while others depend on a dwindling clientele of elderly Egyptian gentlemen or tourists. Only a few can be recommended for their food or ambience, but others deserve a look (or at least a mention) for their period decor or literary mystique, constituting a kind of heritage trail.
Two of the most famous are on Midan Sa’ad Zaghloul. Délices, dating from 1922, has retained its elegant long hall and teak bar, its French name belying the fact that it was founded by Alexandrian Greeks, like the nearby Trianon, built on the site of Cleopatra’s Needles. The Trianon was used for filming the British war movie Ice Cold in Alex (1959), whose characters stranded in the desert dream of quaffing Stella beer if they ever get out alive. Before the war, it was frequented by the poet Cavafy, who worked upstairs as a clerk for the First Circle of Irrigation.
Across Midan Ramleh from the Trianon stands Athineos, a Greek cultural landmark whose classical friezes and fixtures seem unchanged since its 1940s heyday (rather like their cakes). In the other direction along Sharia Sa’ad Zaghloul, both the Brazilian Coffee Store and the Sofianpoulo Coffee Store grind and roast beans using 1920s machinery, and are still going strong.
En route between them, notice the name Baudrot in flowing 1930s typography, which reminds locals of a rendezvous for lovers that closed a few years ago. Pastroudis on Sharia Horriya (which shut in the 1990s) was another haunt of Durrell’s, as was Vinous on the corner of Sharia Nabi Daniel, which seems unlikely to survive much longer, as its Art Deco fittings are riddled by termites.