“I used him as a mentor when I was doing this project,” admitted Kriger. “I often wondered, what would Rick do?”
Her elegant restaurant, in a 1930s townhouse on the edge of Casablanca’s medina, is awash in nostalgia for the classic film. Kriger can be found most nights perched on the end of the long bar, while a piano player — named Issam, not Sam — plays the movie’s theme song, As Time Goes By, repeatedly through the night to a packed house.
And while the only item on Bogart’s menu seemed to be caviar, Kriger offers a full menu of Moroccan and continental cuisine. “I take the movie as a basis but make it more luxurious and better,” said Kriger.
The real-life Rick’s is a hit, filled with well-heeled locals and visitors from everywhere, from Atlanta, Georgia, to Japan. Outside a tour bus is usually parked next to the BMWs and Audis of the dinner crowd.
Yet contemporary nightlife in Casablanca offers more than nostalgia. The conspiratorial feel of Rick’s Cafe is also evoked in La Cigale (the Cicada), a downtown haunt of intellectuals and journalists. The bar at first glance has the intimidating look of many Casablanca dives, with too many mustaches and cigarettes. But in back, the place widens out to an arched room filled with all ages. A stone-faced waitress known as Nora deftly moves her matronly form through the crowd, popping open beer bottles one-handed as she deposits them on tables, saving the occasional half-smile or smirk for young regulars.
Music from a coin-operated jukebox can get the crowd dancing beneath a few colored lights and a half-disco ball, while aspiring musicians take the stage for open mike nights.
The walls bear photos of regulars, called “Children of the Cigale,”as well as paintings of traditional scenes and the odd portrait of the royal family. Chatter ranges from the latest palace outrage against democracy to last night’s romantic exploits.
Also downtown is the Cintra, a cramped bar known for cheap beer and live Arabic music, open until the wee hours. Upstairs in the mezzanine, aficionados of the Arabic lute, or oud, gather to hear thoughtful performances, while downstairs it’s noisy, raucous and good natured.
For the most part, however, Casablanca’s nightlife has moved away from downtown. The remaining cabarets are often venues for earsplitting Egyptian-style belly-dance music and prostitutes who tend to be more aggressive than the lazily swaying dancers in the Blue Parrot, Rick’s main nightlife competition in the movie.
Casablanca’s elite prefer the high-end bars and swanky nightclubs along the coast in the corniche area. A standout is the Cabestan, a multi-level restaurant, lounge and nightclub on the beach with stunning views of the Atlantic’s crashing waves.
In the movie, Rick’s Cafe is located by the airport, its facade swept by the control tower’s spotlight. At Cabestan, Casablanca’s lighthouse spotlights a terrace overlooking the ocean as patrons drink cocktails with names like the Pornstar, a voluptuous combination of vodka, passion fruit juice, rose petals and champagne.
The music is lounge groove, cocktails are pricey (upwards of $14), but it’s worth it for the glamorous crowd and picture windows on the sea.