Hotel and Casino San Stefano

As Alexandria expanded eastward, and neighborhoods such as Rushdy, Bulkeley, Zizinia began to grow, it was natural for entrepreneurs to create leisure spots in Ramleh. Foremost among those was the Hotel and Casino San Stefano, elegant, old world, and often cheerful. Concerts, balls and dinners were a nightly affair, though not many people were willing to make the long journey from town to Ramleh. And so for many years the Hotel and Casino San Stefano was the haunt only of the inhabitants of Ramleh, while those who lived in town had many other places to choose from. And just as Petro at the bottom of Iqbal Street overlooking the sea, with its bird cages, is associated with Tewfik el Hakim, San Stefano is associated with Naguib Mahfouz and his Harafish, with whom he met on the terrace or in the garden when in Alexandria. Across the street, on the tram station, was Philippe, who sold sandwiches, and who had a pretty daughter.

Whether people came more for the sandwiches or the daughter is difficult to determine. In the 1940s, when the British school Victoria College was requisitioned as a hospital, it moved its premises to the Hotel and Casino San Stefano. This sudden threat of so many young men trying to get close to his daughter was too much for Philippe, who was often seen chasing the boys off by brandishing his knife in the air. The San Stefano had an open air cinema that was well frequented, always an Alexandrian preoccupation with the more affluent classes, which also meant better business for the cinema since it would ensure a clientele of a certain standard. Sadly, in the 1990s San Stefano was pulled down and in its place rose the inevitable modern construction: a huge concrete tower blocking the sky, enclosing a hotel (in this case the Four Seasons), a series of dining facilities ranging from the expensive restaurants to the Food Court with its variety of fast foods, and the shopping mall that has come to us from the States via the Gulf countries.