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Postcard from Ismailia: George since 1950

Entering the dimly-lit room of the George restaurant in Ismailia necessitates a generous push of two rows of doors, which keep the legendary silence of the city at bay and invite you to step into an environment frozen in time. The elegantly dressed waiter standing close by the gilded handrail on the mahogany bar was probably on this very spot 40 years ago, just younger and possibly less grouchy.

Golden oldies from France, Germany and Italy softly tickle the ears as you sit down, trying to hide the slight embarrassment that an empty restaurant never fails to create. To be honest, whenever you go dining at George, at least one table is taken, but the person quietly sipping his beer and feeding on pickles presented on a white porcelain plate is always the same. So after reflecting on the matter and exchanging your thoughts with your hungry companion, you will inevitably come to the conclusion that the assiduous costumer who blends so splendidly with the rococo decor is the boss himself.

Your tranquility will be disturbed by the arrival of a handful of foreign Ismailia residents drawn in by their thirst for alcoholic beverages. Because here is the thing about Ismailia: you’d better enjoy George’s old-fashioned atmosphere because no other local restaurants in the city sell drinks other than juices and Pepsi.

Once seated in relatively comfortable chairs, accompanied by fresh flowers gently delimiting each guest’s personal space, you can start browsing the menu. No, let us be honest here; you prioritize the list of alcohols, “all imported” as the grouchy waiter stresses with a hint of disdain. You then imagine his mahogany bar filled with local bottles that, according to a persistent rumor, make you blind in the blink of an eye. While the golden shade of whisky wraps itself around crispy ice cubes, treat yourself to small-sized grape leaves and dip generously into the baba ghanough with a round piece of bread freshly baked and just out of the oven.

With your stomach enchanted and your head slightly buzzing with alcohol, you can truly enjoy the poetry of the place. Gradually, the initial embarrassment created by the absence of other customers fades and you allow the decoration, the smells, the music and the orange light to sink in. The torpor leaves abruptly as your body gathers the energy to push through the two rows of doors and step back into reality. One last nostalgic look at the green canopy shading the restaurant’s entrance will reveal an elegant sign that reads “George: since 1950.”

George, 11 al-Thawrah street, Ismailia (064) 91 83 27

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