Maybe the reason I never feel fully relaxed in Marrakech is because of the bar scene or, more precisely, absence of good, local bars.
Throwing back a friendly beer whose sides are slippery with condensation in a bar that’s the real local deal is part and parcel of the travel experience. But Marrakech by its non-alcoholic nature doesn’t have an authentic bar scene… even though it does have a bar scene.
I could be in a prince’s palace. In one scan of the room I can tick off the top ten things I’d have on a shopping list if I was planning to open a Moroccan themed bar in a European city: Pouffes – check; embroidered cushions – check; sheesham tables – check; moucharabieh stools – check; carved wooden screens – check; tin pendant lamps – check; Arabic mirrors – check; billowing raw-silk curtains – check; candles in stained glass holders – check; subdued red lighting – check, check, check.
Immaculate, attractive, warm and welcoming. It just doesn’t feel real.
The streets below are grimy and dusty, with aromas that veer from enticing to interesting to ‘jeez, what the hell was that?’ Doorways are dark, houses are basic. It’s a poor neighbourhood.
A few doors away in the alley below is an authentic bar. It has tables and chairs, a counter and a television screening a football match. It has no alcohol. And it is stark. It is so uninviting that there is a bigger crowd of people watching the football in the barber shop opposite.
My bar sits loftily atop the city, like most other bars that serve booze. It doesn’t exist for the indigenous population. That’s not to say there are no locals.
Most of the people around me don’t look like tourists. Many possess an easy familiarity that reveals they know the place well. They don’t look around with new eyes, wondering about this strange rooftop world that contrasts so wildly with life in the Medina two storeys below us. They exude an air of confidence in their surroundings that has the distinct aroma of ex-patdom about it.
Only the middle classes and foreigners can afford the prices at these swish gin joints.
I order a wine – Moroccan. It’s better than I expect. I sit back and observe the people that populate this immaculate pastiche. But I can’t quite get comfortable on my pouffe.
I wonder if that’s a metaphor for how I feel about Marrakech.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+