Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


November 27, 2012

Casablanca: Looking for the spirit of Rick's Cafe


For decades after the war, said Saadani, Casablanca was filled with jazz clubs and cabarets that hosted the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker. The movie's pianist, Sam, would have fit right in.

But the last jazz club closed in 1984 amid conservatism and a turn away from Western music. Downtown bars and once-tony spots fell into disfavor. At the same time, rural migrants flooded in looking for jobs. Cheap, ugly, unregulated high rises sprung up as the city mushroomed. The upper classes moved to new developments on the edges of town and along the Atlantic beaches.

Tourists passing through the city looking for Rick's in those years were often disappointed by traffic-choked streets and the glass and concrete tower blocs of a modern city. But in recent years, more nightspots have opened, including, in 2004, Rick's Cafe.

"I was amazed in my four years here that no one ever thought of establishing a Rick's Cafe," recalled its owner, Kathy Kriger. Her previous career as a diplomat in Casablanca's U.S. consulate gave her the connections she needed to open the restaurant amid Morocco's red tape and bureaucracy. Every time her project stalled, she called in favors from the capital, Rabat, pulling strings just like Bogart did in the movie.

"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.

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