Cairo: Where You Can Get a Beer, Even During Ramadan

I wrote a story for the Faster Times travel section on the downtown drinking scene in Cairo, partly in response to a long and strange travel feature in the New York Times yesterday about visiting Cairo during Ramadan (hardly timely now in the middle of winter, when the holy month is not until next August). Not only did the writer admit that she spoke no Arabic, thus qualifying her to write so many words that read like a passerby-tourist, she complained about the lack of alcohol in Cairo, during the holy month of fasting no less. First of all, Arabs drink, whether Muslim or Christian, and it’s tiring to read stories — travel, news, or otherwise — in which the silly reporter breathes a sigh of relief over an overpriced drink at the Marriott, or Four Seasons, or other overpriced Western hotel that is inevitably listed in these kinds of articles. BUT more importantly, it’s wrong that you can’t drink in Cairo, even during Ramadan. The city is full of grimy and charming dive bars, relics of colonial grandeur, or at least smoky, cheap and local spots that are just the thing to fall outside the scope of the New York Times travel section. Here’s the beginning:

Only once have I ever been kicked out of Horreya. One of downtown Cairo’s busiest and grimiest drinking spots is rarely closed. But sure enough one night this fall, as the clock was pushing past three in the morning, the barkeep, who is in turns cantankerous and jolly as he swings at least a half dozen oversized beer bottles from his hands and drops one in front of you before you’ve finished the last, counted the empties on the table and pushed a few of us into the street. We all smiled. In the world of downtown drinking in Cairo, getting the boot from a saloon like Horreya as it shuts its door is rare.

Read the rest here.

West Bank brewery celebrates success with Oktoberfest


TAYBEH, West Bank — It may not be what signatories of the Oslo Accords had in mind, but optimism generated by the 1993 peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians had a relatively underreported positive result: beer.

And not just any beer, as an expected 10,000 participants in the Taybeh Oktoberfest being held in this small Christian village outside Ramallah over the weekend, will attest. The beer made at Taybeh Brewery — named for the town where it was first brewed and, incidentally, the Arabic word for “delicious” — is not only popular among Palestinians (there’s a non-alcoholic variety for teetotalers), but has a following in Israel and beyond. It is stocked on shelves in Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and even Japan.

What began with a home beer-brewing kit in Boston for Taybeh’s founder, Nadim Khoury, almost 30 years ago is now one of the only microbreweries in the Middle East. This will be its fifth annual Oktoberfest event.

Khoury, 50, and his brother David were enticed back to their native Taybeh in 1994, they say by the optimism of the optimism of the Oslo Accords, and the first bottle of Taybeh Golden was made the following year.

Read the rest on GlobalPost.