I spent a perfect Marrakesh afternoon recently with Brigitte, owner of Kosybar and Dar Beija, with Andrena, her longtime friend. Andrena and I were off from work for Moroccan Independence Day so we were thrilled to enjoy lunch in the sunshine. Later we walked it off through the newly refurbished Jewish Quarter to Brigitte’s beautiful boutique hotel.
Day or night the three-story restaurant is a gathering place. I’d been to Kosybar before, a favorite Happy Hour hangout of coworkers and other locals and expats. In a city where riad and restaurant rooftops are so close you can hopscotch your way across the skyline, Kosybar’s sunset view is one of the most unique places in town to sip and see the sky change colors. Perched in their gigantic nests just above patrons, the famous storks of El Badi Palace, began in 1578 by Arab Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, keep watch over dusk. The tourist attraction is home now of the Marrakech Folklore Festival.
As we spoke over lunch, Spike, a talented and gregarious Canadian singer who fills the dance floor downstairs Thursday-Sunday nights, stopped by the table to say hi. Three other expat guests—one who had returned home but like so many others had been drawn back by the “Marrakesh spell”–did the same, giving Brigitte–a Moroccan kisses on both cheeks. She has a sensitive, sweet spirit that friends and regular customers find soothing.
Our lunch prepared by Japanese Chef Nao Tamaki was delicious–a fusion of Asian, French, and Moroccan fare. Though not usually a dessert person, I LOVED the apple turnovers. In addition to lunch, the restaurant serves a tapas menu afternoons and a dinner menu evenings. They have a full range of cocktails including a good selection of wines. The mojitos are the best I’ve tasted in town.
It was a poignant day. Sad and shocked by the Paris bombing, Brigitte talked of the tragedy and her daughter’s decision that they keep their plans for an upcoming trip to the City of Lights. Brigitte said though it is safe in Morocco it had been quiet the last few days as it is every time such a tragedy happens. She agreed with her daughter that we can’t be ruled by fear and they should go to Paris as planned rather than cancel.
Despite disturbing world events, we so enjoyed the day we’d been given. As moms born on three continents (Andrena is Scottish), we spoke of our children. Brigitte shared some of her family history. She and her husband, Nabil, started their journey as high school sweethearts 25 years ago in Meknes. Together they attended University of South Florida in Clearwater, Schiller University, and University of Nevada in Las Vegas where they received degrees in Hotel Administration, Hospitality, and International Business. Their oldest child was born in Clearwater, the other three in Las Vegas.
They returned to Morocco and in 2005 opened Kosybar. Of her staff, she said, “We’re family.”
On the square beneath, workmen continuing renovation.
She also shared local history. The previous owner of the riad which is now Kosybar was a Jewish clockmaker. Moroccan kings have always protected Jewish residents and many pilgrimages are made here to burial sites of their saints. Many of the Jewish houses had tunnels under the city to the palace in case of attack. One of the many things I appreciate about Morocco is its historic and present tolerance of the religions of foreigners. In the Marrakesh Mellah, one of several Jewish communities in Morocco, Jewish and Muslim merchants work alongside one another. Brigitte said of her childhood: “My dad was French, and my mom was Moroccan. Her best friend was Jewish. We all grew up together.”
I remembered on the first tour I took of Marrakesh our guide began at the spice shop just across the street (below). I couldn’t believe how bright and shiny the neighborhood was compared to when I first visited—dust, exhaust fumes, and years of use washed and refinished.
Thank you, lovely ladies, for the pleasure of good company and conversation. Truly it was an afternoon of pure peace.