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What the Hell Am I Supposed to Drink in Morocco?!

Posted by on July 20, 2013
funny jesus sunglasses

My Jesus Shades

We’d made it through Security and Passport Control waving our boarding passes blindly in front of us and attracting surprisingly little attention. It was in the Bridge pub at Stansted, starting as I meant to go on; pint in hand, that we were told where we were going to spend the next few days.

Marrakech.

“Wait a minute.” I said, after the initial excitement wore off. “You’re taking us to Morocco?”

“Yes.”

“In mid July? During Ramadan?”

“Er…Yes.”

“Well, I hope you like sweating, and starving.”

I swear I’ve seen this before in the British Museum…

And so it was that I found myself on my way to an Islamic country with three, shall we say “free-thinking” women (one of whom a lesbian) and little chance of a drink on the other side.

Where to Drink Alcohol in Marrakech?

Do they drink alcohol in Morocco?

Can I?

Drinking alcohol is forbidden by the Qur’an, so Muslims don’t drink. However, Morocco makes a huge portion of its income through tourism, and many young “Marrakchis” like a drink too these days. So if, like I was, you’re wondering ‘can you drink alcohol in Morocco?’, the answer is yes, you can. As I see it, the city is broken down as follows:

Where? Huh? Who? Can I get a drink?
The Medina The old, walled city Old Muslims Doubtful, except in…
Riads, Hotels & Restaurants Riads are traditional Moroccan houses Tourists Sometimes
Gueliz & Hivernage The new town(s) Young Marrakchis Probably

 

Ramadan further complicates the matter, as nothing can be drunk (or eaten) during daylight. However, since the same places that don’t honour Ramadan are likely to be the same ones that serve alcohol, and since drinking tends to take place after dark anyway, this didn’t present too much of a problem.

According to my friend’s shitty guidebook, “the city is acquiring an Ibiza-like reputation for nightlife.” I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say that, but here’s a list of cafes, bars, live music venues and clubs where drinking goes down:

  • Le Comptoir
  • Pacha
  • Silver
  • Teatro
  • Kosybar
  • Grand Cafe de la Poste (expensive; not recommended)
  • Kechmara
  • African Chic
  • Jad Mahal
  • Bo et Zin
  • Montecristo
  • La Suite
  • So Night Lounge
  • Diamant Noir
  • Paradise
  • Hotel Marmara Le Marrakech

What Alcohol Do They Drink in Morocco?

flag speciale local moroccan beer

Flag Speciale

They drink three main beers in Morocco:

  • Flag (Speciale) is the cheap, local brew
  • Casablanca has a kinda cool label and
  • Heineken…is Heineken

If you’re looking for me to describe the intricacies of each, tell you their pros and cons and recommend the finest one, based on my exceptionally refined knowledge of world beer, you’re out of luck.

Just drink the fucking Flag!

There’s also Mahia, a rare and potent liqueur made from distilled figs – which grow well in this hot climate – and a healthy dose of aniseed. You’ll be sure to get it in Carrefour, the supermarket in the Al Mazar Mall, but that’s a little out of town. You can also try your luck in the Berber spice markets, but it can be a bit of a wild goose chase. Mahia is drunk by the Jews, so they are the best people to get it from, if you can find them. You can procure a bottle for €5 in Marrakech, while it is not uncommon for a single shot to cost €15 in bars elsewhere around the world.

Finally, there’s Chiba or Sheba, which means absinthe in Moroccan Arabic. In winter it is sometimes drunk (by the non-Muslim population of course) with Moroccan mint tea. Just ask for “thé à l’absinthe“.

For the non-alcoholic, there’s lait d’amande (almond milk) (Moroccans put almonds in everything), banana juice, avocado juice, and regular mint tea (made of Moroccan peppermint and Chinese “gunpowder” green tea). You can go to a tea salon. Fun fact. Did you know, Morocco is the world’s biggest importer of Chinese tea? Well, did you?

Don’t drink the tap water.

Three Nights in Marrakech

landing in marrakech morocco from the air

Touching Down in Morocco

So we crashed down in the luna-Sahara landscape of amber sunset sand dunes and peach stucco – those crazy Moroccan towers (minarets, apparently) the only things poking up out of the sprawl.

A French pilot who happened to be sitting next to us on the plane told us not to pay the 200 Dirham asked by the taxis directly outside the station but to cross the car park, where you can find one for 50. There are two kinds of cab in Marrakech: big and small. The small ones were 50 but will only take three people though, so I was in the process of haggling (one of my favourite travelling pastimes) and had got a big one down to 70 when the girls reminded me it was only about five quid and bundled me into the cab.

We were sped through the streets of Marrakech, mostly in the oncoming lane it seemed. Honking mopeds came towards us head on and laden to the eyes with sacks and planks and palettes. Heavy-set trucks chugged and belched and blocked our view of the road. Flying buses missed us by a hair’s breadth. Women stepped out into the road with no visible hole for seeing out of.

I’ve seen plenty worse places for driving, from Tirana to Phnom Penh to the mountain roads of Guatemala. It was just odd that they wouldn’t let four people in a small cab, that’s all.

Our riad – Riad Lakhdar – couldn’t have been more opposite from the city outside. The baking 40 degree sun, from which there had been no escape, was replaced by cool dark halls. The constant sounds and smells of the streets were replaced by a reflective, inward calm. Riads are build around a courtyard, and ours had a fountain, a tree or two and the occasional, singing bird that would later come and drink our milk at breakfast when we were done with it.

The style of furniture was like nothing I’ve ever come across (a feeling I get less and less these days) and I couldn’t get enough of these cool, Moroccan door-bolt-locking-system-things:

drinking playing cards moroccan roof terrace riad

Drinking and Playing Backpacker on the Roof of Our Riad

The rooftop terrace, where we would spend most days, whiling away the hours, chatting, sunbathing, drinking mint tea, Flag beer and playing the cut-throat Backpacker Game. The girls spent half of the time topless. I have voyeuristic photos if anyone wants copies.

After dark, down a network of thin alleys, stooping under arches, past ornate doorways, caves almost, deeper into the labyrinth. Souks in the night. A mysterious stranger took it upon himself to tell us the direction of “La Place” when we hadn’t even asked, and then waited ahead in the shadows every time we stopped until he eventually asked for his fee, which he would never get. From then on I was always wary of picking up “guides”.

bab lakssour gate medina marrakech

Bab Lakssour Gate

We emerged in Jemaa el-Fna, a huge open square in the centre of the Medina, and effectively the centre of Marrakech.

A line of bright lights wavered across the square. Chanting, voices, drumming. A monkey climbed on Ruth’s shoulder. Snakes hissed. Charmers charmed. Tethered vultures stared malignantly across the crowd. Mopeds came straight at us through sudden partings in the crowd; their headlights blinding, engines growling as we dived aside, leaving a trail of petrol fumes in their wake. Women leapt out at us with hypodermic needles (or what we later discovered were syringes of henna). A man grabs us and says “You want good restaurant? Over there! Only Moroccan food. These places, they only have pizza, humbugers, frittes! Bad food!”

jemaa el fna night

Jemaa el-Fna by Night

“Oooh, Pizza.” I said, and strolled off towards where he’d indicated the “bad” restaurants. Others blocked our way, grabbed at us as we walked. Hassle. Most of the world is like this. You learn to ignore it pretty quick.

One guy shouted, “No diarrhoea here! Two year guarantee!”

We got all the classics: “Hey, fish and chips!” “Spice girls!” “Charlie and his Angels!” (That one’s my favourite.)

couscous merguez

Couscous Merguez

I think in the end we went with the “no diarrhoea” guy. We ate tangine, couscous, merguez (spiced sausages), brochettes (not bruschettas but in fact meat on a stick) and a dessert…filled with pigeon.

Every meal comes with bread called khubz. Don’t leave any. It’s supposed to be sacred; a gift from God. If you know my friend Hattie, you’ll know we were lucky to make it out of Morocco alive! Let’s just say the girl likes to leave a lot of food.

I went wandering, looking to buy a pair of those Moroccan white linen pants. Sorry, trousers. No luck.

The main language seems to be French, then a Moroccan variety of Arabic, and then there’s also the Berber languages like Tashelhait and Chleuh. Plus everyone seems to have a bit of English, to varying degrees.

Got back to find a massive cockroach in the other girls’ bathroom. I volunteered to kill it, only to discover another one and so I left them with two on their hands. Sleep came easy.

moroccan breakfast mint tea french bread rghaif

Moroccan Breakfast

Breakfast was rghaif (a deliciously greasy layered flatbread) and classic french baguette, with more mint tea.

The girls wanted to go to the Palmeraie. I didn’t fancy walking around in the desert looking for water and something to do so I thought I’d stay and write the beginnings of this post.

“Do you even know where abouts in the Palmeraie you want to go? It’s thousands of acres.”

“It’ll be fine. We’ll just figure it out when we get there.”

Half an hour later, we’re standing in the middle of the desert looking for water or something to do, our cab disappearing into the distance. They dragged me along, on the premise that I could find a nice palm to sit under and write beside a pool. Now they’re looking to me to get them out of this situation.

Don’t ever go to the Palmeraie.

camel trekking marrakech morocco

A Camel Named “Madonna”

By and by, another taxi pulls up and offers to take us to a place where the girls can ride a camel and I can sit and write and play photographer as they disappear into the desert. The taxi was 20 Dirham (so about 40p each) and we managed to haggle the camel ride to a pretty good price too.

Carly’s camel was called “Madonna”.

Part of me likes the sound of those two or three day camel treks into the Sahara, camping under the stars by night. It’s a romantic idea. But the sad truth is, it’s an illusion. They’ve done the route a million times. It’s probably just around their back yard. You too are going to have to come back to where you started. It’s not your camel. It’s not your life. It’s not even their life. You don’t need to cross the desert by camel. It’s not real travel. It’s pretend.

We’re always trying to recreate gone eras and ways of life, because our own is so empty.  This fascination with the past is everywhere in the tourism industry. Think most attractions: churches, temples, castles. What good are they to anyone now? Yet we readily pay entry fees to go in and see them.

Well, you won’t find any history, architecture or any of that crap here. Just bars and drinking.

Our taxi driver gave us a ride back into town for 70 Dihram. He was a good guy, old Yassine Mrabti Fassi, so I said I’d recommend him to anyone going to Marrakech, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now. He charges a good price and doesn’t try to rip you off. I have his number and email if anyone needs it.

pool party marrakech morocco

Pool Party!

We spent the rest of the day by a pool we found in one of the cheaper hotels. We got the radio going with Blurred Lines and had ourselves a little pool party. When it’s 40 degrees, you should never be more than a few feet from a body of water.

Ruth and Carly in the Club

Best Buds!

Later we’re at an underground club beneath the Hotel Marmara Le Marrakech. Homosexuality in Morocco can get you up to 3 years in jail, so where better to hang out than a spot notorious for being overtly gay. The bar was filled with smoke – tobacco and marijuana. The seats are comfortable. There are all sorts of people here. The kinds of people you don’t see above ground here. Scantily clad girls, gay guys, lesbians, sexy, overly affectionate straight couples, Westerners, Africans, locals. It’s not a gay club as much as just a place where people can be themselves, away from prying eyes. It was hot as hell. We danced our asses off. I sweated through my shirt about a hundred times. The whole place had an air of naivety about it, like a school disco or something. We all – everyone in the club – danced in a circle, not like the cramped, back to back, pushy, faceless meat-markets that are Western clubs. By the end of the night, everybody knew everybody. Like a small village, overnight – perfect strangers had become the best of friends. Exhausted, and the club seeming to have emptied, we decided to call it a night after one last dance. Suddenly all our new friends, sensing this burst of energy came running out of the woodwork and we all hit our second wind. People got on stage, there was a conga line, break dancing, dosey doe-ing. That last dance lasted for hours and turned a mediocre night into one of the best of our lives. We walked home reeking of sweat and smoke and ecstasy. (The emotion, not the drug).

smoking shisha hotel roof marrakech morocco

The Girls Smoking Shisha on a Hotel Roof

Next night we’re reclining on a rooftop, smoking shisha at four in the morning, thinking, talking away the night. I will miss Morocco in Ramadan, I thought. The way the city comes alive at night. The relaxed craziness. The emphasis on being about for the most beautiful parts of the day; sunrise, sunset, sitting out all night. Sleeping all day suited me just fine. “Under the stars”, I came to find, is a real Morocco cliché, but I now know why.

My friends all got travellers’ diarrhoea and Carly threw up in the middle of the spice market.

The End.

Yeah, that’s right!

Oh and if you’re interested in similar posts about drinking in far-flung Islamic nations, check out my post on where the hell to get a drink in Brunei. It’s becoming quite the series.

23 Responses to What the Hell Am I Supposed to Drink in Morocco?!

  1. Mat bond

    That last paragraph is classic!

    • RoyDuffield

      Thanks, I thought I’d waffled on enough and wanted to leave everyone with a lasting memory.

  2. Ric

    So I came across your page trying to find a place to find myself a bit of morrocan cock in Marrakech tonight. All I can say is that you are hilarious and your blog is sick!

    Wish me luck

    Xoxo

  3. Rachel

    Your blog is sick! We are coming here in July, also during Ramadam and were slightly concerned about the chances of finding some bevs and smokes! Apparently all the lads come out during this religious festival! Sounds like the ultimate cock fest! LOL

  4. Tracie Angiolini

    Could you send me details of the Marrakech taxi driver please. Thanks

  5. Dennis The Menace!

    Mate, when I was there in the 60s Kif was all the go.
    Now that I have graduated up to “serious pisshead status” my present research Nov 2014 for my upcoming journey to the Maroc, finds that Kif is still king, but grog is available, but one must not make a public display of it. Boring!!!

  6. John

    Hi, good post. Could you also send me details of the Marrakech taxi driver. Thanks

    • Roy Duffield

      Hi John, thanks for reading. I’m in Oz right now so don’t have his number on me but I’ve sent him a message asking for it. I’ll email it to you when I get it. Cheers,

  7. Bella

    Could you tell me the name of the hotel with the pool please?

    Much appreciated blog post!!

    Thanks

  8. Mark

    Best travel blog I’ve read for ages. Quality stuff

  9. Stella Rose

    Loved reading this blog post! I’m off to Marrakech for my first time in 4 weeks and have been digging around looking for any advice, hints and tips I can. I’ve never been outside of Europe so have been slightly anxious about what to expect.

    I love the way you write! Honest, frank, informative and naturally humorous :)

    It’s got me so excited to go so thanks!

    Stella Rose x

  10. Tom

    You sound like a bit of a div.

  11. Leeanne

    Great read! Been anxious to go in three weeks as recently found out it’s Ramadan and we do enjoy a bev at night. Was even thinking of cancelling, losing us a fair bit of cash! We are all-inclusive, hoping the hotel still give us alcohol. I’m a slim blonde who owns no long, conservative dresses lol.

    • Roy

      Hey Leeanne, sorry for the delay. I’m guessing you didn’t have a problem in all-inclusive, am I right?

  12. Kenny

    This is a very entertaining and well-written blog post. I have now sealed the destination of my twentieth wedding anniversary trip in February. Thanks, Roy!

  13. Catrin

    I’m taking my family to Essaouira in Ramadam – next week for two weeks! Naively I hadn’t realised that it was Ramadam when booking. My family includes a mix of family, friends and children. We’re not alcoholics but nevertheless appreciate a drink at night. I find your blog very reassuring and well written too. I can see it dates back to 2014. Any updates? Anything specific about Essaouira? Just wondering. BTW we are determined to have a good time whatever happens.

    • Roy

      Hi Catrin, I’ve never done Essaouira but I hear it’s a really nice town. There are plenty of bars, but you may struggle to find alcohol during Ramadan to be honest. The issue is more the drinking in public, so I think your best bet would be to find some drinks to enjoy back at your accommodation.

      Keep me posted though, as I’m very interested to hear how your trip goes.

      Best,

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