Sunday, November 8, 2009

Busy Being Born: The Fairmont Nile City

CAIRO - If the old line "location, location, location'' holds true, the Fairmont Nile City Hotel, which began its soft opening Oct. 1, has a bright future. The highrise tower is located just across the street from its namesake, the fabled River Nile, and is part of the Nile City office and shopping complex, one of the most modern, forward-looking developments in Egypt's capital.

Like any property in a soft opening, the hotel is a work in progress. Most guest rooms are yet to be open, as are most of the planned restaurants and bars - though the hotel's California-style eatery, Napa Grill, is up and running and shows real promise. The two top chefs came to the Nile City directly from the San Francisco area, where they worked most recently at Silks, the Mandarin Oriental's fine-dining establishment. The hotel's director of food and beverage has California credentials, too; he lived in the Golden State for 26 years.

When Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels and Resorts made the Nile City its third Cairo property, and the first one in central Cairo, Fairmont decided to do an American-style hotel. That's where the California smart-casual connection comes in. Nile City executives told me they didn't want to do a French or Italian restaurant and they didn't want to do a steakhouse. They wanted to differentiate the property. So, in addition to Napa Grill, Nile City will open a Vietnamese restaurant, to be called Saigon Bleu, install a rooftop bar called Sky Bar right next to the rooftop swimming pool and extend the current tea-and-coffee lobby lounge by adding a bar. The lobby is stunning, with a soaring atrium, updated Art Deco styling and three waterwalls interspersed between glass-walled elevator shafts.

I say "will'' a lot - as do the hotel's executives - because much remains to be done. The hotel operators have set March 2010 as the time to wrap things up and open officially, with a gala likely next summer. As it is, I had a generally comfortable stay in a river view room; I was moved from another room, without asking, so the hotel could give me a bigger room with a desk. Indeed, the staff spares no effort to be helpful, and their positive attitude helps smooth out some of the awkwardness and language and cultural hurdles between local staff and international guests.

When you're this new - barely six weeks old - there are bound to be glitches. The front desk apologetically told me they didn't have any city maps. The chair I am sitting in as I write this has a tag still attached underneath. It has taken several hours of back-and-forth talk to arrange a car to take me to the airport for an early morning departure, something that is routine at hotels that have had time to hone their act.

The Nile City is already very good in some ways - with well-intentioned, hard-working staff, good food and drink, a handsome look - and there's that location. It's almost unfair to evaluate the hotel this early. But soft opening or no soft opening, I want to alert travelers that a new, high-end hotel has entered the market in this fascinating city. In the months to come, I expect the Nile City will reach the high standards set by parent Fairmont and come together nicely.

For more information: Web: Telephone: international toll-free 1 888 310 2323. E-mail:

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