Two years ago Rick's Cafe was still looking a lot like a construction site. The full load of electricity had not yet been turned on, preventing use of the heating system. The skydome had to be re-done and the space was covered in plastic. There was dust all over from the treatment of the terra cotta tile, and the painter was standing by with his roller whenever the dust happened to settle. Palms still had not been moved from the nursery. The banquettes weren't ready. There were barely enough tables to place downstairs. Only two tabourets stood at the bar. There was no chef, after losing two prospects because of the many delays. The piano was in place, but Issam could only start on March 9. Nevertheless, there was a core group of staff and provisions were coming in, decorations and lighting were being placed .and the bank was getting very impatient. There was an overriding atmosphere of excitement, enthusiasm and optimism - at least among those connected with the project if not the construction! And besides, the New York Times travel section of February 22 announced our opening, tied to the February 29 Academy Awards ceremony under a headline "A Casablanca Landmark Awaits its Debut." Moreover we had printed 5,000 postcards which said: "Reopening 1 March 2004.after 60 years of rennovation!" It was impossible to plan an "Official Opening" because of the work, but nevertheless I announced to the construction workers that the ground floor had to be completed, painted and fitted with furniture by Monday evening March 1 when we would just open our doors and see who showed up. "Unlike some of you, when I put something in writing I mean it," I explained to the shocked workers who otherwise seemed willing to make Rick's Café their life's work. We engaged a caterer to prepare some simple menus, and the voice of Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter came through the sound system as we turned on the light of our sign and welcomed our first guests, a good many of whom came with the New York Times article in their hands.
As Sam says in the film, "A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then." Now it's time for our second anniversary, next Wednesday March 1. Rick's is aging well, a comfortable spot for dining and drinking with the décor, lighting and piano evoking the nostalgia of the 40's.
The tourists and visiting business people are coming in good numbers, but it's our Casablanca clientele who have helped us personalize and refine our ambience.