June 12, 2012 / 11:28 AM / 7 years ago

Spirited Traveler: Here's looking at Casablanca

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mention “Casablanca” and many people immediately think of the Oscar-winning film in which Humphrey Bogart famously toasted: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Moroccan women walk past the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca February 24, 2011. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

But business travelers may be more inclined to think of Casablanca as the industrial center of Morocco, a key connector for trade between Europe and Africa. And unlike Bogart, visitors here may be more likely to toast by raising a glass of fruit juice rather than whiskey - unless they know where to go.

As a predominantly Islamic country, Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages. In addition, retailers are forbidden to sell alcohol to Muslims - liquor is often kept in locked cases, or gated areas within a store. That said, the law is often flouted, particularly by younger generations.

The growing trend toward Westernization has resulted in increased sales, particularly of beer and wine. The government introduced higher duties on alcoholic beverages in 2010.

“Morocco is an open country,” explains Moulay driss Ouazzani, general manager of Casablanca-based distributor Drinks Company, which brings Western spirits such as Patron tequila to the city.

“Cocktail culture is not on the mind yet, but it is starting to be. People are more used to drinking spirits straight, on the rocks or with sodas.”

While non-alcoholic drinks like fruit juices, soft drinks and teas are widely available at cafes and other venues, those seeking the harder stuff will have to look to licensed restaurants and bars, as well as nightclubs.

Ouazzani recommends Cabestan (www.le-cabestan.com) for its food and cocktail selection, but particularly for its sweeping ocean view.

Trendy restaurant and lounge Le Bound (5, Rue de la Mer Adriatique) also makes his shortlist, as does chic Le Skybar at the Villa Blanca (www.villablanca.ma/), which is known for its terrace bar, ocean views and late-night DJ.

“Those places are the best in town,” he confirms.

Of course, film buffs may also want make a pilgrimage to the "real" Rick's Café (www.rickscafe.ma/). In 2004, American entrepreneur Kathy Kriger opened the piano bar as a faithful copy of the film setting.

With its nascent drinking culture, Casablanca (the city) isn’t yet renowned for a particular spirit or cocktail. But Casablanca (the film) spawned a variety of cocktails in its honor, including the eponymous “Casablanca Cocktail”, made with rum, Cointreau and Maraschino liqueur.

I’ve seen other versions of the drink made with vodka or gin, giving tipplers an excuse to drawl Rick’s famous line: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

(Editing by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato)

Kara Newman is the author of "The Secret Financial Life of Food", Columbia University Press; publication date autumn 2012. Any opinions expressed are her own.

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