05/01/2014 10:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Drink the World: Morocco


In certain cities, I won't mention which, but you know who you are, if I left an overly large cardboard box lying around long enough someone would convert it into a bar named Flimsy, or Recycle, probably serving craft ale and charging enough to give you a hernia from clenching so hard when the bill came.

This is not the case in Morocco. For the most part it's still a case of where there 'should' be a bar and not where there 'could' be a bar, that dominates, which is as refreshing as the sweet mint tea they serve you wherever you go. Drinking here is done in a whisper not a shout; a cloaked suggestion from a waiter, or a proposition from yourself destined to receive a hard stare or a cheeky smile. Bars are not exactly rare, just sporadic and mostly a little seedy, found by word of mouth, or spectacularly bad guide book maps, or sheer chance.

This is particularly the case in Marrakech with it's labyrinthine Souk, where you wander little alleys lined with glass and clay wares, carpets and pungent meat on old wooden tables, as you hug the shade from rooftops to stay cool, though cool is always a relative term. Here you're practically obliged to get lost, but that's ok, this is not a place where having a fixed destination necessarily benefits you.

Night in Marrakech, is beautifully, barely contained chaos; people take to the streets, or sit in front of cafes drinking mint tea and chain smoking. The area around the Djemaa Al-fna square in particular transforms into the greatest show on earth; storytellers, fortune tellers, jugglers, acrobats, snake charmers, potion sellers, teeth pullers and holy men swarm the plaza, the air filled with the smell of cooking meat and fish and spitting fat as a thousand identical establishments compete for your attention. It was once the site of public executions, but now the only things getting killed are the tourists wallets. Find a spot up high, order a drink and let your jaw drop as you enjoy a hazy desert sunset over the cities low rooftops and sip a cold beer or a mojito made with mint so packed with flavour that it proves that nature really does love us.

In other cities drinking is much more clandestine. In Essaouira on the Atlantic coast for instance a search for take-away beers led to a wander through smaller and considerably darker alleys following a scrawled pencil map drawn by a local with a seemingly deranged sense of humor. Finally, alerted by the music more than anything else, I pushed through a heavy wooden door and into a local bar; a tiled floor, a solitary fan, a fog of dark, bitter tobacco, and a small TV hung on the wall showing some kind of complex domestic drama watched raptly by all in attendance. Everyone in the room owned a penis, except a single overworked and painfully young waitress. Everyone in the room smoked, except a single overworked and painfully young waitress. Despite being something of a curiosity my beers were presented in a discreet paper bag and I stayed for a short, sharp whiskey that tasted like paint thinner only much less desirable and watched the soap opera for a while, proving that though we may be divided by distance and politics, drinkers the world over still share a common language, and that whatever else we have in common, grunting at a bar's TV remains one.

It's sometimes a challenge to get a drink, but it seems more enjoyable for the effort. It's a country where you have to earn your glass, but much like finding your destination, it shouldn't be expected.

Do you have an experience or story? Tell us below or via twitter @bezerkskhaus

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