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Rick's Cafe opens in Casablanca

By Al Goodman
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief

Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca"
Humphrey Bogart

CASABLANCA, Morocco (CNN) -- You must remember this: Rick's Cafe has just opened in Casablanca.

Not the one in the movie, the first ever real one in this town -- even if you can hardly order a drink in that place without someone saying, "Here's looking at you, kid."

And there's a new Rick. And like Humphrey Bogart in the film, she's a tough cookie.

Owner Kathy Kriger is a former U.S. diplomat and entrepreneur from Portland, Oregon who worked as commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Morocco's capital, Rabat.

Before that, Kriger ran a travel agency and a real estate firm. She lined up $1 million in funds from American and Moroccan investors to open the cafe, where dinner costs about $30 per person. It's also open for lunch.

Kriger studied the movie extensively to get the details depicted in the fictional cafe so she could work them into her real cafe. There's a piano player, of course.

Rick's Cafe opened on March 1, and the mayor of Casablanca told CNN that Rick's, which is near the port, is seen as part of Casablanca's urban redevelopment.

Says the cafe's Web site: "'Could you please show me where the Rick's Cafe is located?' This is a question that any American tourist could ask if he bumps into you in downtown Casablanca.
The real Rick's Cafe has opened under Kathy Kriger's management.

"And if you happen to know the answer, you would have to say 'Well, we've been waiting for Rick's to reopen for sixty years!'

"There is, at last, a real Rick's Cafe in the white city which has given its name to one of the most famous movies made in the '40s by Warner Bros."

Says Kriger: "If an American woman here could do something like this all by herself, that alone would say a lot about what sort of country Morocco is and how tolerant its people are."

But let's not get soppy. If Bogart could come back, Kriger would know right where to put him.

"I'd put him at the bar where I sit in the corner, there's a dark corner with a very cozy little lamp, and from that corner you can see who comes in the door."

The movie copied the rich detail of old Casablanca. Now life imitates art -- with a full menu. But no gambling.

"No gambling, that's not anything that was ever in the cards," Kriger says.

I asked a patron if she felt she was in a movie or real life.

Play it, Sam: Bogart as Rick and Dooley Wilson as Sam in "Casablanca."

"Oh, real life," she told me. "My life is a movie. It's better, because it's in colors!"

I had come all the way to Rick's Cafe and of course I was going to say it:

"Play it, Sam.

"Play 'As Time Goes By.'"

Who cares if it's life? We can always pretend we're in the movies.

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