In an old courtyard-style mansion in the Old Medina of Casablanca, tourists are flocking to experience the spirit of Humphrey Bogart’s iconic fictional nightclub, 80 years after the classic wartime film Casablanca hit the silver screen.
The Moroccan port city entered the cultural imagination of the United States at a key point in World War II, thanks to the moody romance starring Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund and Bogart as Rick Blaine.
It remains one of Hollywood’s most beloved works – but the film is more than just a love story set in Morocco.
Just days after its initial screening on 26 November 1942, American forces snatched Casablanca from Vichy control during Operation Torch, a string of allied landings in North Africa that helped change the course of the war.
The film (almost accidentally) gave allied forces a propaganda boost as they gained control of North Africa, which became a springboard from which to liberate western Europe
Historian Meredith Hindley, author of a book on wartime Casablanca, said the film formed “part of the American war experience in a way that was never intended.”
“It just becomes part of the American cultural fabric,” she said.
Recreating the spirit of Rick’s cafe
Several decades after the release of the film, former US diplomat Kathy Kriger opened a real-life “Rick’s Café” in Casablanca itself, as a tribute to the film.
Complete with cocktails and piano, the venue is modelled on Blaine’s eponymous bar, and became an instant hit with tourists when it opened its doors in 2004.
“I absolutely had to come, even though I knew that the film wasn’t shot here,” said Wendy, a tourist from Vancouver.
“The place is a unique experience, nostalgic and romantic. You have to see it once in your life”.
Stepping into the chic bar next to Casablanca’s old city feels like walking back in time.
Tables are laid out on two levels, amid gorgeously sculpted stucco columns in a traditional Moroccan style.
“It’s not an exact replica of the cafe in the film,” said restaurant manager and pianist Issam Chabaa. “The only thing that was perfectly reproduced in the end was its spirit.”
The interior is littered with reminders of the film that inspired it – wrought iron candle holders, beaded lampshades, a jazz and blues repertoire from the era; as well as posters of the film.
Of course, the restaurant houses a piano, similar to the one on which Dooley Wilson’s character Sam played “As Time Goes By” – the theme song of Rick and Ilsa’s affair.
“All that’s missing is a roulette wheel and the smoky, dramatic atmosphere of the time,” said Irish diner Tony.
Check out the video above to learn more about the significance of Casablanca (1943) and for a look inside the modern-day Rick’s Café.