The white arches gleam under brass lamps hanging from the ceiling and, yes, a jazz pianist tinkles out “As Time Goes By.”
Rick's Cafe evokes the fictional Rick's Cafe from the movie “Casablanca.” The building in the Moroccan port city, which gave the 1943 movie its name, was built 13 years before. Fans of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on a Casablanca pilgrimage will find its atmosphere charming and architecture authentic.
“This is part of the real Casablanca. If the movie had been filmed here instead of Hollywood, this would have been a good place for it,” said Kathy Kriger, who assembled a group of investors, found the old mansion near Casablanca's casbah and opened the restaurant four years ago.
Rick's serves steaks, lamb, chicken and fish with vegetables, rice and potatoes. The appetizers are particularly tasty: goat cheese and figs, prawns and papaya, melon and smoked duck. (Caviar was the only food in the film, and it's not on Kriger's menu.)
The real star of the new Rick's is the converted house. Bill Willis, a Marrakesh interior designer, replicated lamps, restored a staircase and made a wooden bar in the shape of the one in “Casablanca.” Floor tiles are new, yet antique-looking. Waiters wear fezzes and diners sit among palms and Oriental screens.
“Few Moroccans have seen the movie, but they tell me this is what Casablanca was like,” said Kriger. Warner Bros., producers of the classic, had inspected pictures of the city to get right the details of the Rick's, as run by Bogart as Rick Blaine.
In case you don't get the movie connection, a video of the film runs over and over in an alcove near the entrance.
Kriger glides among the tables to greet diners. She never seems to tire of people saying, “Here's looking at you, kid.”
Note: The name of Rick's pianist isn't Sam. He's Issam, a common first name in North Africa and the Arab world.