“It’s the living room one aspires for but never has,” said one client.
“It’s a geek’s pub,” said another — and that succinctly summarizes that mood and feel of Bikya Book Café.
Since opening in early January, Bikya Book Café has become more than what its five young female founders intended. It is not simply a secondhand bookshop, but it has now become a cultural hub in the middle of Nasr City, a neighborhood deficient in cultural venues. In Bikya, people come to read, meet with friends or work quietly in a corner. Few places in Cairo offer a truly quiet environment such as Bikya.
A passion project shared between five friends — Rana El-Faramawy, Reem Khamis, Nancy El-Hady, Yara Taha and Sara Boctor — the young ladies were, as Faramawy explained, inspired by their regular trips to the Souq El-Azbakeya, Cairo’s famed outdoor secondhand book market which has over the years lost much of its luster and has been depleted of its finer choices.
“There was always something about looking through piles and piles of books, searching for that specific book that would make your day instead of just going to a normal bookstore and grabbing it off the shelf,” said Faramawy, “In addition to, of course, that secondhand books are much cheaper.”
Having immediately decided to set up shop, they located a warm and inviting space “cocooned,” as Faramawy put it, on the first floor of a building off a quiet square in Nasr City. Bikya Book Café, which takes its name from the colloquial term “bikya” to signify antiqueness, offers in addition to books beverages and food allowing someone to come and browse, stay for hours and enjoy a good snack or two.
So eager to encourage and promote the notion of reading, items on the menu (which seasonally changes, oftentimes according to clients’ suggestions) are inspired by book characters. A Mr. Darcy drink proved to be very popular during the hot summer months; the irony is not to be ignored of course.
Bikya Book Café’s location in Nasr City is novel; typically, entrepreneurs with concepts that target a niche market set up businesses in Maadi or Zamalek where usually an equal mix of locals and foreigners are sure to test new outlets or concepts.
“One of the main things people always made us worry about was the fact that we were opening in Nasr City, however that turned out to be one of the main reasons of the success of the place,” Faramawy commented.
“We’ve heard plenty of ‘thank yous’ for opening here in Nasr City, or for offering such a concept without the need for us to cross over the Sixth of October Bridge. People appreciate how cozy the place is. We’re also always open to hearing anyone’s opinion on any matter concerning Bikya in order to always improve it.”
Cozy it is, painted warm colors with lots of comfortable wooden chairs fashioned in a typically Egyptian style with plush pillows. A large window overlooks what appears to be a small backyard that’s not in use, but certainly gives space and comfort to the place.
What Bikya has excelled at is taking the basic concept of a space made for people who want to read and buy books into a space that encourages discussion. Since opening their doors, Bikya Book Café has hosted various performances and book signings in addition to talks and workshops.
Just last month, they hosted the band Rash Radio and singers Farida Makar and Farida Gueretly. In addition, the launch of the new comic book “Autostrade” was held at Bikya, as was the launch of local fashion designer Deana Shaaban’s latest collection. Seemingly, you never know what or whom you might chance upon there.
During Ramadan, oriental takht music nights are arranged, and the menu has accordingly changed. Best of all, Bikya understands that its customers are mostly young students, and so drinks and food are priced quite reasonably.
“I can’t really categorize the clientele that we have, they range from old couples coming to spend some quiet time and buy books to college students,” Faramawy said.
“The only thing we are sure of is that whoever comes to Bikya is someone who has already heard of it, it’s pretty hard to see when you are passing by. There’s no big sign outside, we want whoever’s coming to be coming especially for Bikya.”
Bikya Book Café
23 Dr. Zaki Hassan St.,
Behind Tiba Mall
Nasr City, Cairo