Here’s Looking at You, Rick’s Cafe.
Here’s Looking at You, Rick’s Cafe.
I fell in love with the movie Casablanca when I first saw it as a teenager. Strangely, and quite unlike many of my favourite movies, I have often struggled to explain why I feel it’s such a magical picture. This is a bit pathetic when one considers I used to write about movies for a living. Perhaps it’s down to how director Michael Curtiz strikes such a delicate balance between the harsh realities of human conflict during World War II and a genuinely crowd-pleasing melodramatic love story.
Humphrey Bogart is a big part of the movie’s appeal, naturally. There’s just something mesmerising about Bogie swaggering around onscreen as Rick Blaine. That strange mixture of grizzly tough guy and vulnerable puppy. His unique, lispy, twisted accent that has a wedge of Transatlantic, a bit of New York City, a touch of some-other-planet.
Not that Casablanca is a one-man show. Ingrid Bergman is equally spellbinding, somehow simultaneously reserved and oozing sensuality as Ilsa Lund. Moreover, the supporting players put in world class performances that, upon my first viewing, had me looking them all up for further research.
The great Peter Lorre, for example, as petty crook Signore Ugarte. The masterful Sydney Greenstreet as underworld boss Ferrari and Paul Henreid as the dashing and daring resistance fighter Victor László . Claude Rains shines too as the slivery, corrupt prefect of police Captain Louis Renault. Oh, and let’s not forget Dooley Wilson, magnificently musical and loveable as the charismatic pianist, Sam.
Here’s Looking at You, Rick’s Cafe.
I also love how the entire movie is so ridiculously quotable from start to finish. From “Here’s looking at you, kid” and “We’ll always have Paris”, to “Round up the usual suspects” and “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, you’d be hard pushed to find a film with a more iconic script.
Yet another reason I love Casablanca is because of its brilliant set designs, all custom built at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California. In fact, I have always found myself entranced by the look and feel of the movie, especially the scenes that unfold at Rick’s Cafe.
Smoky, shadowy, dimly-lit and bursting with intrigue, Rick’s is a nightclub like no other. It’s a place where espionage hides between the tables. Where people drown their sorrows with brandy and French 75. A joint in which you celebrate the good things in life with a singalong at the piano. A mystical space where, at any moment, you could find yourself either in love, or in handcuffs. Or both.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”
Consequently, try to imagine how feverishly excited I was when I read about a restaurant called Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca. An upscale eatery that… yes… has been meticulously modelled on Rick’s from the movie. This was the moment I knew that S and I had to spend some days in the city and have dinner at Rick’s.
Dressed up, and loaded with anticipation, we arrived in the early evening. A suited doorman was on hand to greet guests, before the maître d’ checked our reservation and led us to our table. Immediately, I could see what a staggering job they’d done staying true to the essence of the 1940s. We passed the sculpted bar and several towering columns, gazing up at the second floor balconies with their stencilled brass lighting and shadow-casting plants.
In a bit of a daydream, we took our seats and I couldn’t help but recall that first cafe scene in the film. The players were a bit different of course, no smoking soldiers, but otherwise it was as if I had just landed in the middle of Curtiz’s Oscar-winning masterpiece.
Here’s Looking at You, Rick’s Cafe.
Rick’s Cafe sprang from the mind of an American lady, Kathy Kriger. Born near Portland Oregon, she had lived a varied and rich life packed with adventure long before opening her own business in Casablanca. As a young woman she launched her own travel agency and explored the world. By the late 1990s Kathy had settled in the Moroccan city of Rabat where she worked as a diplomat for the U.S. government. Eventually, she decided to cash in her pension and go solo with the idea of opening a restaurant in tribute to one of her favourite movies.
Photo courtesy of Abdejalil Bounhar.
According to several online articles, getting Rick’s off the ground was a long and arduous process for Kathy. Indeed she described the venue, a courtyard mansion dating back to 1930, as “a wreck of a building” upon purchase.
In addition to her pension, Kathy had to secure a sizeable loan. Then, when that ran out, she turned to fundraising by establishing a company called The Usual Suspects. Finally, in March 2004, Rick’s Cafe opened its doors and Kathy, often seen keeping an eye on operations from a corner of the bar, became known as Madame Rick.
“She isn’t just any woman”.
Having put so much on the line, Kathy made sure to craft a daily operations team that would strive to realise her vision. Which was basically outstanding food and top-notch service in an environment that is 110% faithful to the film and its era. Fittingly, I found our waiter smartly dressed, super polite and full of knowledgeable tips when it came to our order. Moreover, I was tickled to see that he seemed just as excited as us when I asked for a bottle of the house champagne.
While I didn’t actually see Kathy that evening, I did spot a man who was arguably the most crucial member of her team. His name is Issam Chabaam, a Moroccan from Rabat who was Kathy’s manager. Supervising a staff of 60, he also doubled up as the house pianist.
Of course nobody could replace the incomparable Dooley Wilson as Rick’s musical heart and soul. However, I felt that Issam definitely gave Sam a run for his money. Several nights a week he hits the piano to woo his guests. And yes, he can knock out a perfect rendition of As Time Goes By. Listening to him play that night, I felt an urge to say “Play It Again, Issam”. Not wanting to be cheesy, I resisted. Plus you know, that famous line actually goes unspoken in the film.
Here’s Looking at You, Rick’s Cafe.
Forgive me dear readers, but I got so caught up in the atmosphere that night I forgot to photograph our mains. Epic fail. This still haunts me, though I must say it’s the perfect reason to go back one day. Dusting off my patchy notes, I see that I had a T-bone Steak served with caramelised onions, smashed potatoes and stuffed mushrooms. Yes, it was good.
Oddly, I did remember to photograph one of our two dessert platters. There was a delightful assortment of bites, including cheesecake, chocolate mousse, creme brûlée squares and scattered fruit. Everything lightly drizzled with vanilla ice cream and cinnamon.
I’m so glad to see that Rick’s Cafe is still one of Casablanca’s premier restaurants despite the turbulent events of recent years. In 2018 the team was devastated by the news of Kathy’s sudden passing from a heart attack. “US-Moroccan relations have lost a champion”, tweeted the U.S. Embassy in Morocco. A restructuring of the management team followed, and then of course there was COVID.
Somehow, Rick’s has battled on, while a glance at their recent TripAdvisor reviews suggests their high standards have not slipped one millimetre. Here’s Looking at You, Rick’s Cafe.
Like this? Then why not have a look at my other reports on Casablanca.
I’ve also written a bunch of reports from all around Morocco.
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Kathy sounds like an amazing woman, what a wonderful achievement to have created this lovely cafe that lives on even after she passed away. It is perhaps surprising that no one had come up with this idea, to give Casablanca Rick’s Cafe, before her. I think the place is positively charming and I am happy to hear that food and service are excellent.
Thanks for kicking off this comment thread, Anoush! I agree that it’s surprising how nobody beat Kathy to it. But I’m glad that it was someone like her who took the job seriously. It is a great regret of mine that I forgot to photograph our mains, I really dropped the ball on that one.
Ha, you and I really are at opposite ends of the movie spectrum – most of this article means absolutely nothing to me! Nonetheless it’s always riveting when someone has a business idea (particularly a public facing business) and throws every ounce of passion and determination at it, until they see their dreams become reality. And all immeasurably better when that business becomes a success. I love those kind of stories and this is a terrific one.
It’s never too late to give Casablanca a watch 😉 In any case I’m glad you were still able to get a sense of what a special place this is. It is a great story, I would love to go back there one day to show Sladja. Though I have to admit that it feels unlikely we’ll ever go to Casablanca. Thanks for reading!
Omg great shots and lots of old memories for me. My company had a retreat for all managers back in 1987-88 and went there visit was glorious but no pictures, was into post card collection then oh well.Thanks for the memories.Cheers
Hey Pedro, thanks for reading and commenting. I guess you are referring to visiting the city rather than this cafe right? I can’t imagine what Casablanca would have looked like in the late 1980s, that must have been a helluva experience!
Both and yes was awesome nice travel memories thanks
It looks like an amazing place, and so special for you given the tie to the movie (which I am ashamed to say, I have never watched). It sounds like Kathy is a huge loss but her legacy lives on – I’m glad the restaurant continues on strongly. My husband is in Casablanca for work in March so I’ll make sure he visits!
Hey Hannah! I would definitely recommend watching Casablanca, but maybe only if you have a general appreciation for old flicks. I’m glad you appreciated the restaurant’s backstory and what an amazing woman Kathy was. Would love to read a report from your husband on Rick’s…
So glad it lived up to the hype and hopefully you can make it back soon. I always love when a restaurant can make you feel transported to a different era. You’re like the original foodie taking pics before it was so mainstream haha
Or not really taking pics as it turned out ha ha. I had the basic idea, just poorly executed. Thanks for reading about Rick’s Cafe Lyssy, it’s a special restaurant in tribute to a special movie.
I was hoping for a post about Rick’s in this series, and you came through with flying colors! If I ever go to Casablanca, visiting Rick’s will be the prime attraction. I’m glad Kathy took the effort to do it right. Casablanca is one of my all-time favorite movies’ too. I just recorded another favorite, The Maltese Falcon. It has some of the same characters, Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet, and a very intriguing plot.
Hey John, I’m so glad this piece spoke to you. I love The Maltese Falcon too. When I first saw Casablanca I was so enthralled with Bogart I went and mopped up a whole bunch of his films, what an exceptional singular talent he was. The African Queen is another of my favourites too.
Bogart has had terrific leading ladies like Hepburn. The real-life chemistry with Lauren Bacall shines through in their movies.
Almost didn’t get this one as I had to rescue it from the spam folder. Don’t know what my computer was thinking. So glad to read that Rick’s had both the look and the feel of the original. Many places master the look part which is relatively easy but lack that overall atmosphere. Hard to believe that Bogart started off playing two bit villains. Cheers.
I agree that creating and nurturing the right kind of atmosphere is the tricky part. Thanks for checking out Rick’s Cafe, Memo. Bogart had to start somewhere I suppose, and boy did he blossom.
So nice to be able to walk into such a magical dream place, even if it only existed on a sound stage. Owning a restaurant is still a challenge these days, especially at the upper end. Here’s looking at you, better times. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan
Thanks Allan, this was a really special experience, and one that still makes me smile. It’s been a few years since I saw Casablanca, perhaps Sladja and I should schedule a watch in the near future. Have a great week!
Rick: You know what I want to hear.
Sam: No, I don’t.
Rick: You played it for her, you can play it for me.
Sam: Well, I don’t think I can remember …
Rick: If she can stand it, I can. Play it!
Well said, Geoff. Of all the blogs on all the web in all the world, I’m glad you popped into mine!
Leighton, I think this is the beginning …………….
i can’t help but feel that we all need a bit of rick’s cafe in our lives. it seems clear that you could appreciate this place without knowing a thing about the movie. but for a film buff like yourself with a special appreciation for Casablanca it must have been magical
It was a magical evening Stan, I’m glad that comes across. Yeah even without knowing much about the film you could easily be mesmerised by the look of the place. The sound of the piano, the smells in the air, the general nostalgia that inhabits every detail. Thanks for stopping by.
You know what Leighton: I think you just wrote an excellent review for Casablanca (even though you mention that you struggle to describe your love for the movie)! It’s great that Rick’s Cafe lived up to your expectations – I’ll forgive you for not taking pictures of your main meal, because wow, that dessert looks utterly delicious!
Did I ever watch the movie – I’m ashamed to say no … but you almost makes me want to book a plane ticket to Morocco right now (while watching Casablanca on the plane) 😉.
Ah Corna, crack open a bottle of red one night and give Casablanca a whirl. I do wonder what Berto would make of it, ha ha, Thanks for your kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed my review of Rick’s Cafe. If ever there was a reason to return to the city…
Based on your review, the movie sounds sensational, and all that from beautiful, downtown Burbank 😉. Seriously though, your post had me anticipating more as I read through. What a great experience for you as a fan of the movie. I love how Kathy designed an authentic recreation of Rick’s Cafe, including all the intricate details. And it’s great to hear that the food was tasty as well. I was particularly thrilled to hear that she’s from the PNW, my home too. Thanks, Leighton, great post!
Aw, thanks so much Tricia. That’s fun to hear you and Kathy hail from the same region. Rick’s is such a cool place made with soo much love. It’s heartwarming to hear that even though Kathy is gone they are still keeping its original spirit going as strong as ever.
So amazing, we only drove by the cafe when in Casablanca two weeks ago, so sorry we could not go in. I have loved the movie for as long as I can remember.
Hey Terry, it’s lovely to have you on one of my comment threads. Ah so close and yet… Perhaps you’ll get a second bite of the cherry if you’re ever back in Casablanca.
You never know where travel will lead….
Love Peter Lorie part, and the police. Never tire of watching it. Thanks
Yes, I agree, Peter Lorre was a class act.
What a wonderful tribute to such a wonderful movie. Ingrid Bergman is so effortlessly graceful, refined, and sexy all at once. A true classic of a movie. I love how ‘Madame Rick’ really put her heart into making the cafe so resemble the movie. Today feels like the perfect kind of day to cuddle up and watch Casablanca and relive the magic attraction to the brilliance of the film 🙂
Totally agree, Sladja and I are thinking of doing just that in the next week or so. And maybe downloading a few more complimentary pictures of the era. Thanks so much for reading about Madame Rick and her wonderful restaurant, Meg. I’m happy that her legacy lives on in this somewhat under-appreciated Moroccan city.
We flew in to Casablanca some years ago – arrived late and then were catching a train the following afternoon so hadn’t allowed a lot of time. Having always loved the movie, I would have been happy just to say I was in Casablanca but when I read about Rick’s Cafe!!! We had lunch there – an extravagance on the first day of vacation! – but such a treat – and what a start to a Moroccan adventure!!! Thanks for the memories!!!
Hey Marie, a great start to your vacation indeed. A visit here is, as you say, is a huge treat and one that will stay with you always. Thanks for reading!
I want to go there! What a gorgeous restaurant, Leighton. I’m sorry to hear about Kathy, but I’m glad to hear that Rick’s has survived. I don’t know that Mike and I are fancy enough to eat there, but what a lovely place. The food must’ve been fantastic because the desserts look amazing. I also enjoyed the “Casablanca” film clip. It has been a very long time since I last watched the movie.
I’m sure you and Mike wouldn’t look out of place in Rick’s Cafe. Like me, just throw on something nice, maybe wash the old hair and boom, it’s dinner time ha ha. Thanks for reading about Rick’s Cafe Kellye, Kathy’s story is one that deserves to be heard.
It was my pleasure, Leighton, as always!
That’s an exciting experience. Here in Dallas we have the South Fork Ranch for those who loved the Dallas series. However, I admit Rick’s Café is a bit more exciting.
Ha, that must be a huge attraction in Dallas. I remember that show being on in the house while I was growing up, though I think my mum was more into Dynasty and Knots Landing. I do like the idea of ordering a Larry Hagman Lasagne.
So cool! We have a Rick’s Cafe in Jamaica as well but it’s a very different vibe. Our Rick’s is a cliffside restaurant & bar that attracts adrenaline loving cliff-jumpers & party goers.
I actually stumbled upon Jamaican Rick’s Cafe several times online while researching for this piece. It sounds like quite the venue, though not my cup of tea! Thanks for your comment, Rochelle.
I actually rewatched Casablanca this summer. It’s one of my favourites as well. Glad to hear that Rick’s Cafe lived up to its reputation. You must have had such an enjoyable experience to forget to take pictures of your food!
Yes, I think I just dove into my food with gusto. Then later had a major head-in-hands moment. Glad that you and others in this thread are also fans of Casablanca, a movie I think everyone should see at least once in there lives. Cheers!
How fascinating Leighton. I’m a great fan of the Casablanca movie too so would definitely want to pop into Rick’s cafe on a visit.
Thanks for your comment Marion, I can’t imagine a better dinner spot than Rick’s in the entire city.
That is really inspiring how Kathy really went all in for her dream, and that the restaurant is still running. It seems like she really did have a positive impact on her community.
Kathy’s story is an inspiring one Allie, thanks for reading about Rick’s Cafe. I would like to think that I could have one more dinner visit there before I depart this world but have to concede that it’s unlikely I’ll ever go back to Casablanca.
I watched Casablanca for the first time in university during one of my French courses regarding former French colonies (like Morocco). Never made it out to Casablanca during my visit to Morocco years later, but it would be a delight to fine dine at Rick’s Café, especially perfect for a lovely date (with my partner)! Glad to see it survived the pandemic and is still thriving!
Yup, I’d say Rick’s is a perfect date venue. Thanks for stopping by Rebecca!
Yesterday thought I would catch a bit of the movie as it is on my iPad. As I had started watching the movie a couple of months ago but not finished, it opened to just before the scene where the French sing the Marseille over the Germans, one of my favorite scenes in the move for sure.
Ah yes, we should really add it to our download list. It’s been too long.
Had no idea that whole film was a purpose built set, fascinating to know.
They did a magnificent job eh? They don’t make ‘em like that anymore, yadda yadda yadda.
How interesting! I really should watch Casablanca though ahah! The place seems amazing, even though I obviously can’t say anything about its resemblance to the movie, and the desserts look delicious! That Kathy really did a terrific job!
I’m amazed by the number of people who haven’t seen the movie. I just kinda figured nearly everyone would’ve seen it somewhere along the way. Nevertheless, thanks for your enthusiasm Juliette and yes, you’re right, Kathy nailed it!
Loved this, including your descriptive review of one of my favorite movies, so classic. Kathy sounds like an amazing woman. The replica is quite evocative of the original.
Thanks so much Ruth. Sladja and I haven’t actually watched the movie together yet, something we definitely have to put right at some point this year.
When I watched Casablanca, it reminded me of a thought I’ve had a lot, on why so many current-era movies are just utter garbage: the writing. It felt that in Casablanca, every word and every line had a purpose. I must re-watch it again. Cheers 🙂 Aiva xx
There is a definite distinctive feel to old Hollywood classics for sure. And yes, a part of the appeal lies in the quality of the screenplays. Thanks for your comment, Aiva.
Rick’s Cafe sounds like a truly magical place. Leighton, you’re so wonderfully descriptive when you write that I could see it before me as I read. I love Casablanca, “the movie” and perhaps one will have the opportunity to visit as well. Kathy was an inspiring woman, and I’m so glad her legacy continues to thrive. Thank you as always for sharing with us all!