‘There are places in Brixton from back in the day that are still here’

Still around after more than 20 years, being burnt down and spending four years closed, Café Cairo epitomises the Brixton spirit. James Perrett finds out how

Cafe Cairo billboard saying "We are open"

“We’re still here,” say the people behind one of Brixton’s longest-running bars. “Come and see us!”

Their long-standing establishment, Café Cairo, sits tucked away on Landor Road, in that stretch between Brixton and Clapham.

Behind a red façade, Café Cairo opens out across two floors; beyond the bar is a sprawling courtyard of tented corners, hand-crafted Egyptian dividers, plump lounging cushions and a pizza oven.

Café Cairo opened its doors in 1996, the creation of former BBC reporter David Lodge. After travelling to Egypt for work, David fell in love with the culture and brought it back to the UK in the early 90s as a tent in Glastonbury. The current space, built by David himself, remains not just a bar but a community hub for artists; a live theatre stage, a belly-dancing studio, a cinema.

“David was doing this in London before anyone else was: mixing café, nightlife, culture,” bar manager Aaron Molloy told me over Brixton Electric IPAs.

Everything you see in Café Cairo has been built by David, Aaron and girlfriend Rhiannon Parry (also David’s partner in business) – it’s all DIY, recycled and eco-friendly.

Rhiannon said: “It’s literally our blood sweat and tears, this creation. It’s always been a labour of love.”

The bar burnt down 11 years ago on 4 November 2007 in what the couple still believe was an act of arson. They closed for four years, a group of them keeping the name alive through Café Cairo Events; designing and decorating spaces for parties – a house party here, a church in Nunhead there. But the call of Cairo was strong and they spent a year rebuilding it from the ground up.

Rhiannon said: “It was all still here like a ghost town, just sitting here for four years covered in dust and ash.”

Crowd in Cafe Cairo

Current Café Cairo serves only locally sourced drinks with all mixers homemade from scratch.

“We believe if you have better alcohol you get intoxicated in a better way, you get happier,” explains Aaron. “With organic ingredients there’s no sulphites which are what give you a headache.”

They’re more than happy for you to come and drink mint tea at midnight, too, or tuck into vegan chocolate and vegan pizzas.

Aaron and Rhiannon want to promote the eclectic range of events the café hosts; from their “wild” Halloween party, to BeLLy BoX, a small cabaret night with hand-picked “very odd, but brilliant” acts.

“All different types of people come through the arch,” says Aaron. “You don’t want to stay at home? Come to Cairo. You want to go partying but you’re a bit too scared of big crowds? Come to Cairo. You just want to hang out and watch a film? Come to Cairo.”

Rhiannon adds: “We’re not trying to be original. We just want people to know that Cairo has been in Brixton for so long. People need to know that there are places in Brixton from ‘back in the day’ that are still here. We’re still here, we’re still going, come check us out!”

For opening times and contact details, visit www.cafecairo.co.uk 

Facebook: Café Cairo