If You Built It, I Wouldn’t Come: Lent in Casablanca, Night 16

In “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner hears voices imploring, “If you build it, he will come.” He figures out that if he builds a baseball field in his cornfield, Shoeless Joe Jackson would come back from the dead and play baseball.  Over time, all manner of other old, dead ballplayers show up, and everybody has a great time, and it enables a lot of metaphysical wrongs to be righted, and everybody lives happily ever after, no matter how dead they are.

The thought I had was, if there were a cornfield somewhere, and somebody built Rick’s Cafe Americain, and all the original Rick’s denizens were able to come back and drink and smoke and hang out, would I go there?

Probably not.

Obviously, I am drawing on my extensive past life as an enthusiastic bar patron, and not my current boringness, but still: there are a whole lot of things I would hate about Rick’s as my regular place to drink.

First and foremost, the dress code.  “Everybody comes to Rick’s,” they say, and by the sartorial gods, that selfsame “everybody” is all gussied up when they do.  The bars in which I spent my 20’s and 30’s were decidedly more casual.  I should point out that my bars were not the most casual bars on my sandbar–I mean, you had to wear shoes (at least when you walked in), and peeing in the parking lot was discouraged (at least till after midnight (peeing in other people’s shoes was always discouraged, especially indoors))–but you could wear shorts and a shirt, and you’d be okay.  At Rick’s, everybody wears evening-wear.  Rick sports a white dinner jacket and bow-tie; other men wear nice suits or tuxes, and the military are decked out in their formal uniforms.  I can see Bogie and Abdul the bouncer tossing my skanky ass out, right onto my fat, surfer-shorts-clad ass. 

Another thing that would bug me: the waitstaff.  Carl is awesome–don’t get me wrong.  The actor’s name is S.K. Sakall, and his nickname was “Cuddles”, because he was such a nice guy.  When in bars, I liked having bartenders/waitresses who were as casual and depraved as I am.  Maybe it seemed less shameful to order that one extra last-call double if the bartender had visible tats or–better still–I’d gone drinking with said bartender at a sleazier bar.  I could see running into Sascha at some dive down Rue de Les Tavernes des Dirtbags.  Other than that, I want bartenders like Sherry from Gamble’s, whom I made out with a few times, and who was both lovely, and could beat the crap out of anyone who got out of hand.

The third thing: there’s no take-out at Rick’s. Worse, there seems to be no food of any kind, except for that one tin of caviar Major Strasser ate.  In my bar daze (sic), there was something reassuring about having such continental fare as “wings” or “chili cheese fries” or “nachos” to soak up the night’s poisons.  You know Signor Ferrari would at least have gyros or something available at The Blue Parrot, but there isn’t anything at Rick’s.  

Also, the entertainment at Rick’s would bug me.  No matter how engaging Sam is, and I really like music from that era, in my drinking days I found that there were two acceptable forms of workaday bar entertainment: blues bands or jukeboxes.  As much as I like big bands, they are loud. Lord help me if I’m trying to enjoy a couple cocktails with Annie the Soapmaker while the orchestra is playing “It Had to be You.” Further, God bless him, but that whole Sam thing where his hands and the notes coming out of the piano don’t synchronize? At all? Like, the piano stops, but his hands keep going, and vice versa? That would drive me batshit.  If I were drinking gin, that would potentially make me violent.  The blues and alcohol go together like…well, alcohol and the blues. Holy crap, it’s the Commutative Property of Multiplication, only with alcohol and blues.  I never had a problem with a blues band playing.  I could talk between sets.  Most other live bands kinda bug me.  They’re never as good as they think they are, and they’re always louder than they should be.  The jukebox at Gamble’s had a huge selection of Classic Rock.  It was familiar and comfortable.   Really, I don’t need to be challenged or explore new types of music, not when I’ve had a crappy day and I’m trying to get Crazy Susan to make out with me over behind the pool tables.  

I should offer an addendum: I’m talking about basic, nightly bar patronage.  I used to love going to a nice jazz club to hear jazz, but that was always the point: I was going to hear a specific band.  In my home bar on a plain old night, I don’t want to have to concentrate on Brubeckian time signatures or songs involving any sax but a tenor.


Nazis.  I must admit that I’ve never been in a bar full of WW2 Nazis, but based on my extensive research (ie, watching movies wherein WW2 Nazis frequent bars), I don’t want to be.   The results of my research show that one of two things will always happen if you’re in a bar full of World War 2-era Nazis:

  • Option A, the Nazis will start singing a German song other than the one they’d really be compelled to sing (ie, “The Horst Wessel Song,” for which Warner Brothers couldn’t secure the rights, so they substituted something else); after a verse or two, the non-Nazi bar contingent will start singing the French national anthem back at the Nazis; cacophony ensues, and the Nazis shut down the bar, ruining everyone’s fun (I am against cacophony, bars being shut down, and fun ruination).  
  • Option B, somebody’s accent slips, and everybody shoots everyone else (I am against any non-liquid shots in the bar environment, especially if I’m shot (or, I should add, if I’m only grazed, but there’s nobody left to bring me palliative beverages)). 

Rick’s Cafe Americain teems with life and intrigue.  It’s one of the most interesting film worlds I’ve seen, full of fascinating people.  Obviously, I love “Casablanca,” and the world of Rick’s, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang out there, any more than loving “Apocalypse Now” would make me want to take a boatride through the Vietnam War.

Then again, at least in “Apocalypse Now,” there would be powerful psychotropic substances, and I damn sure wouldn’t have to wear a tie.


3 Responses to “If You Built It, I Wouldn’t Come: Lent in Casablanca, Night 16”

  1. I never lived an interesting bar life but I’d go to Rick’s once maybe. Just to see Sam’s hands blow it. As a former performing monkey, I have great empathy and not a little bit of schadenfreude when it comes to things like that.

    My last foray into the bar/”music” scene here was a Dylan tribute band. They had a guest stunt double stand-in on alto sax who was a mess. He, like I playing softball, missed more than he hit but what he hit was good. Turns out he’s the guy from Brave Combo, apparently on an off night and not good at sight-reading charts of old Dylan tunes which should never be resurrected anyhow. I think his ax was rebelling.

    If I’d had to dress up as well as pay a $5 cover for that, I would have definitely not gone. So I’d go to Rick’s once. But not if there was a cover.

    • Yeah. If I have to pay for drinks too, there’s no way I’m paying a cover.

      I had no problem paying to see a name band in a bar–JJ Cale, Gregg Allman, Neville Brothers, eg. For Sam? Nope.

  2. Yeah, at best you might get a handsome Nazi lad standing to sing “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” in an improbably sweet tenor.

    Wait, wrong movie.

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