Lost Eateries

Modest in size was the Mayfair Inn, which no longer exists. Here is its description from Tales from Alexandria by the author of Cocktails and Camels:

On the Corniche at Stanley Bay, overlooking the sea, a quaint one-storey wooden building called the Mayfair Inn was a popular place to go for tea or a drink. A steep flight of stairs led up to the small terrace and one could either sit there or, if it was winter, inside by a cheerful fireplace, something not too common in Alexandria. Although there were many places with English sounding names because of the war, the Mayfair Inn looked more like the real thing – English, cosy, and unpretentious. If it had not been for the suffragis in their long white robes, white turbans, and red cummerbunds, you might have thought yourself in England.

The British Forces loved to go to the Mayfair Inn. So did my Lebanese grandmother. (Cocktails and Camels, p. 36)

Such descriptions, where the English, the Lebanese, and the Egyptians all blend into one remind us of the time when the various communities of Alexandria had lived peacefully together, even during times of war.

Mention of the Mayfair Inn brings memories of the Beau Rivage, also no longer gracing the seafront of Alexandria in Ramleh, originally owned by the Swiss family Bolens and then sold to the Salamas. Apart from a cosy hotel with lots of typically rustic wooden beams and a very welcoming atmosphere and friendly personnel, it had a splendid garden with tables and parasols on both sides of the entrance. A number of Egyptian films were shot there. Similar, if somewhat less rustic, was the Hotel Mediterranee which was also a family type hotel. On another level, more vast and luxurious, were the Romance and the Cote D’Azur with their terraces often frequented by Queen Nazli and members of the royal family, and the Romance nightclub and casino where King Farouk was a frequent guest. Around the same area in Ramleh, on a corner of Rue Fouad in Glymonopoulo, stood the Summer Palace, majestic like its name. The beautiful Villa Medzeger, run by the Hungarian brothers, was the place of choice of an evening of high sophistication. Dressed up to the nines, the fashionistas of the haute bourgeoisie in their latest imports of clothes bought at Chalon or Renee in Cairo, and their furs brought in from the cold of the Sistovaris fur fridges, would go there for an evening of music and dance. That, too, was one of King Farouk’s favorite haunts, and it is said that when he arrived the doors would be closed, allowing no more guests in, while those already in the restaurant would be served champagne, on the King! Alas, structured almost entirely with wood paneling and flooring, the Summer Palace went up in flames on a New Years’s Eve in the forties.

Those were the places that were especially popular during the wartime period, and flourished with a certain opulence and social sophistication that Alexandria was perhaps never to experience again. The pashas and the beys, the rich and the famous, were all familiar faces at those venues of leisure and pleasure and gastronomic exquisiteries. Later, there would be other places like the Grenouille with its live band, one of whom an ex Alexandrian Azer brother, another the Egyptian Tunisian Bakr Sallami, and the Pam Pam discotheque. The Pam Pam had its heyday much later than the hugely successful Grenouille, and the fact that it was located literally across the street from Santa Lucia did very little to stop it from being the favorite place for the young generation. It was likely parents would go to Santa Lucia, where Rafaello the barman would sip a swig of Scotch with every drink he served, going home as a rule always half drunk, and the young would literally turn their backs and go to the Pam Pam where unrestrained fun could be had. Today, Santa Lucia has a night club by the separate name Fever; time will tell whether its initial kickstart will secure the same long-lived fame of the original Santa nightclub where tall Vic Dan towered above troubled waters of change with his singing and his songs. The Crazy Horse in Athineos had a brief encounter with success too around the late 1970s but in spite of Alki at the mike and membes of the Alexandria Dreamers Band, much like the Belvedere, it too had a short lived span of fame that soon came to an end as did an era of nightclubs in Alexandria. An exception broke ground, however, with the Au Privé that catered in large part to a middle and upper middle class client and to different age groups. Managed by Jean and Karim Chamas, it served some of the best food for which one would also go for lunch. Today, many of those said night clubs function as such solely on weekends with weekdays almost totally out of work.