Behind a green marble bar, a cloud of tobacco smoke and several huge vases of exotic flowers, a bow-tied barista at the most famous café in Morocco charges around seven Australian dollars for a sip of his espresso.
In the local currency, those 50 dirhams could afford you a taxi ride from the airport through the city of Casablanca. You could buy an enormous, freshly-caught fish and still have change for a half kilo of pistachios to bake it with. You could wander around the corner to the most charming cinema in Africa and treat yourself to four movie tickets and an armful of apricot choc tops.
But if you are anything like the thousands of tourists who are ushered through the doors of Rick’s Café each year, you will happily pay whatever price the bow-tied boys say is necessary.
There might be an art house film screening for peanuts next door, but the real film enthusiasts are to be found in here. The grand piano in the main dining area is not, of course, the actual instrument around which Bogart and Bergman so famously fell in and out of love but none of that seems to matter. Nobody is here to embrace the authentic.
This cafe is pure Hollywood. Sumptuous. Expensive. Entirely devoted to glamour and those who most memorably symbolised it.
The espresso might inflict a Novocastrian with a sudden bout of homesickness, but somehow the charisma with which it is served makes it much easier to suffer through.
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If the barista wasn’t so busy turning on the charm he might be more inclined to just turn on the grinder. He could spin more jugs of milk and a few less yarns but the wide-eyed clientele would probably enjoy it a whole lot less that way.
You might think your 50 dirhams are only buying an espresso but it takes only a moment to realise that you have in fact invested a far more unique experience in hospitality. Forget spending a 50 on a taxi ride through Casablanca. So much of what has made this city famous is framed in golden portraits along these walls. There are plenty of pistachios too. Roasted to perfection then scooped by the silverware into warmed crystal dishes at the bar.
Just before I leave an elegantly dressed couple come to rest themselves among the marble, the exotic flowers and the floating smoke. The great actress Ingrid Bergman may never have lit up in Casablanca but she apparently smoked like a chimney everywhere else. I thought of her as the lady next to me held her cigarette between her immaculately painted nails and stared suggestively at her husband.
I started to wonder as the old man in his suit coughed and winced after sipping his coffee. What would Bogart have said after an espresso such as this?
Play it again Sam? Only so long as the barista’s name is Sharif.