Little pocket of nostalgia

Saturday, May 15 2004, 00:00:00

Rick's was 3 months old on June 1. I can remember the first days vividly - the cold nights before we had our augmented electricity, fireplaces that smoked, two barstools and no furnishings on the first floor. What we did have - the ground floor beautifully appointed, the piano, a quality menu and most of all a tight team of people believing in the dream - was enough to give Rick's a magic kind of ambience. An article in the New York Times travel section on February 22 caught the attention of the US audience and clients appeared at the door with copies in their hands. Most fun have been visits from people who saw the house before or during construction...I'll never forget a party I had just after the sale was completed. I wanted to celebrate the happy end of what had been a tedious 9-month process. The delays mainly centered around getting renters to family that occupied the ground floor were especially persistant and finally the owner of the house had the electricity cut to hasten the renter's departure. I held the first party by candlelight with a small little boom box playing Cole Porter tunes. That was in September 2002, and as Sam says in the film, "there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then."From the beginning this project has been a personal one and I think people feel that. Palm trees outside and inside add a rich and colorful texture to the ambience. We've played around with the lighting and the cut brass Iranian and Syrian lamps fill the white walls with dramatic shadows. 
When one walks in the door it's like entering a private home with a party going on. I've always enjoyed giving parties, but I never liked the cleaning up. I loved to prepare the food, choose the wines, fix the flowers, select the music and then invite an eclectic mix of people and try to make them comfortable. I've given parties visiting Buddhist temples in Tokyo, viewing Japanese films in Prague and celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Casablanca.
Now I have a party every night, and each night is a different vignette - just as I imagined it would be. Sometimes I may be part of the story, other times I watch through the palm fronds from my table. I have seen people sitting looking up at the lights and the shadows of the plants on the walls - they tell me they feel like they are in the film and if people come here and feel romantic, carefree or just relaxed that makes me happy.. I'm trying to create a little pocket of nostalgia, sophistication and glamor that is hard to find these days...and maybe an oasis of sorts, isolated from the troubles our world is facing. This is what draws the tourists and foreigners, but it's been a great surprise to see the appreciation resident Casablancais have for Rick's. While Casablanca is a congested city of 5 million there are some charming facets to be discovered. I learned a lot during the two years I worked on the project and met some fascinating people. I'm going to use this column from time to time to introduce you to people such as the man who made our lamp shades and is presently putting beads on 42 table lamps. I want to share more about the rich architectural heritage here in Casablanca - one of the largest intact concentrations of Art Deco right in the center of town.