I wrote recently about the Basin Street Bar that attracted an eclectic crowd in the 60's and 70's. Thanks to Chuck, who managed the Seamen's Club in that era and was called out of retirement to come back to Casablanca on a temporary assignment, we were able to find the place. Basin Street is in a prime location on Blvd. de Paris with art deco grillwork on the windows. A broken window permits a view inside of a New Orleans Basin Street poster - brown with age and smoke - on the wall. We heard a woman came and cleaned the place each day - could it be Suzanne, the wife of the owner, Jimmy Smith? Chuck became curious, walked by, found the door open and shouted if anyone was inside. When a woman came toward the door he said he was looking for Suzanne. It had been 40 years, and she replied, "I'm Suzanne, Chuck, we've just gotten older. He took her phone number and told her a little about me and Rick's Cafe. I called her and she'll come to lunch soon, but in the phone call she told me about some of the struggles she's had since she was forced to close the bar. She's been in Morocco 45 years, and if people call me a Tough Cookie after less than 6 what would be the word for her???!!!!! It will be interesting to talk to her, but I can tell I'll have to get the romantic, nostalgic anecdotes of that era from others.
Suzanne's story reminds me that memorable places take on the personality of their owners and the family they gather to serve the clientele...the magic of Basin Street, according to the customers, was the ambience created by the owner Jimmy Smith and the bartender, Jerry Manilow. Jimmy had a great appreciation for jazz and from what I've learned a vast record collection - they also had dice and poker downstairs. During this time there was an American air base in Casablanca and the American military, diplomatic and private sector population was much larger. A simpler, less troubling time to be sure - at least in this part of the world. Moroccans who were customers at Basin Street recall their good times and the friendships they established with the American owners and customers. Rollicking times at Basin Street with friends over drinks and music, jokes and burgers gave these young Moroccans a chance to know Americans and it helps today their understanding that "America" is not defined by policies but by people. Maybe Rick's Cafe can translate American values for new clients leaving politics at the door. As Rick says in the film: "Your business is politics, mine is running a saloon."