Now when I hear the word cocktail what comes to my mind is a drink in which the bartender skilfully brings different components together to create a new concoction. The word had a different meaning in Aleppo. You could get a normal cocktail, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, in fancy bars in the city but they were not as good as what we thought of as real cocktails.
In Aleppo a cocktail means a refreshing drink made out of fresh fruits. It can be as simple as a mix of two fruits or as complicated as mix of fruits, dairy products, nuts and honey all topped with a zineh. Zineh means decoration and in Aleppo it is often a tower of finely balanced chopped fruit, whipped cream and syrups teetering perilously on top of a glass. Alongside the cocktail, it is traditional to have a grilled cheese sandwich – slices of molten haloumi between pieces of baguette. Cocktails come close to being sweet works of art in a glass, the zineh arranged with astonishing precision and care. Cocktail shops pride themselves on their elaborate, excessive architecture of kiwi slices, strawberries, bananas and chopped pineapple.
The drinks are served all over the city, but a few streets specialise in the drinks. One such place was “Cocktail Street,” located in Hay al-Uroubeh, a small district that falls between as-Suleymaniyeh and al-Aziziyeh. This two-hundred metre stretch is packed with shops open 24/7, drawing in customers with flashing lights, fake flowers and numerous types of fruit hanging from the roof.
Cocktails are quite cheap and always drew a crowd. For a small drink, you would pay 25-30 SP (0,50-0,60 USD), for a medium 35-50 SP (0,55-1 USD) and for a large cocktail with an elaborate zineh (1,25-2 USD). Most shops are small, with room for just three or four customers, so people often waited in their cars outside for waiters to come and take their orders. Since most shops were open all night, they were popular after-party destinations for youth.
I often went after playing football. As with every other young man in Syria, I was a huge football fan and amateur player. My team would rent a small playground on the outskirts of the city called Al-Jabbanat – Cemeteries – and compete against other teams. These games are among my best memories from Aleppo. Our team consisted of four field players and a goalkeeper. There were never substitutes as no one was ever wiling to be replaced. After two hours of non-stop running, everyone’s energy level ran low. Time for Cocktail Street where the skilled cocktailers, who most probably inherited their profession, were waiting for us.
Today most of the cocktail shops on this special street still stand. The vibrant life of the street and the exhausted soccer players are gone.
All pictures from Al Naranj Juices Facebook page