From riad gardens to rooftop sanctuaries, here’s a list of Marrakech’s best bars – as chosen by local bar owner and restaurateur Sebastian de Gzell.
Morocco is, officially, an Islamic country, and the consumption of alcohol is frowned upon for the most part. However, there’s still a decent smattering of cocktail bars, rooftop spots and happening nightclubs in Marrakech – you just need to know where to look.
For an insider’s insight, Culture Trip asks Sebastian de Gzell, co-owner of two of the city’s best restaurant-bars – Nomad and +61 – to give his take on the lay of Marrakech. However, there are a few things to note about drinking in the city before delving into his recommendations.
Morocco doesn’t really produce any spirits of its own (save for mahia, a kind of fig moonshine that is made in the countryside), but there are three main beer brands. The most prevalent is Flag, which you will usually find served as Flag Special in small, green glass bottles. There is also Flag Pils, but it’s less widely available.
Casablanca is also well known and is usually advertised as a pricier ‘premium’ beer. Then there’s Stork, usually the cheapest of the three and not served in tourist-facing bars, though readily available in liquor stores and supermarkets.
There are also a few locally produced wines, the best of which come from around the ancient city of Meknes. For everything else, there’s usually a fairly standard selection of imported spirits – some of which are infused with local spices – as well as the typical range of international beers.
During the holy month of Ramadan, many restaurants will stop serving alcohol, and many bars will simply shut down. At alcohol shops, you’ll need to bring your passport to prove that you’re from overseas – if you can find the open shops, that is.
Note that there is an underground scene of semi-illicit dive bars where the main business is not alcohol but prostitution. As a tourist, it’s generally better to stay away from these.
However, with a little investigation and an open mind, you can find what you’re looking for in Marrakech. These 10 bar owner-approved drinking holes in the city feature everything from cocktails on a riad roof to cold beers with chicken and chips.
Like many riads in Marrakech, El Fenn is a place to stay, eat and drink in one. It’s also a lovely spot to get a little distance from the endless bustle of the medina. The rooftop is impeccably designed – perfect for both catching your breath and whiling away the afternoon over mint tea or cocktails. “[The rooftop] is a beautiful location with fantastic views over the rooftops and of the Koutoubia,” says De Gzell. “[It’s a] nice place to get a respite and drink in the hustle of the medina.”
Decorated in muted ochre tones and sumptuous furnishings, this hotel bar is a place where you lose track of time. La Maison Arabe is a particularly great spot for a special date or a romantic evening with your significant other. “Not many people know of this,” De Gzell says about the bar. “It’s the oldest bar in the medina and great for a quiet drink.” That’s not to mention the luxury dining, pools and spa – a respite indeed.
Though not strictly a bar, De Gzell’s own +61 is a modern concept restaurant blending the unfussy laid-back Aussie lifestyle with local flavours and detail. The decor is soft, sleek and spacious – the vibe is relaxed and friendly. The food is refined, De Gzell notes, and the place serves a mean cocktail, winning its place on this list.
Le 68 Bar à Vin is a charmingly rustic space with a pub feel, two floors and a small sheltered patio. Its wine list is carefully curated but spans the globe – don’t worry, the knowledgeable bartenders are always on hand to help you choose the perfect glass. There is nothing pretentious about 68, making it a great place to spark a conversation with a stranger. It’s a “cosy spot”, De Gzell says, and very welcoming.
The Charleston is an old-school Arab cabaret bar, often with a live band and always full of smoke and dancing. “It’s the real deal,” says De Gzell. “Unfortunately, ventilation is terrible, so a little hard to deal with for too long, even for smokers.” Underground, dark and noisy, this bar provides an experience that only Marrakech could produce.
“[L’Escale is] an old-school restaurant-bar that has been around forever,” says De Gzell. The chicken is coated with a delicious spice mix and then grilled over wood chips. Pair with fries and ice-cold beer. “Old-timers sit ordering beer after beer. At the end of the evening, they simply count the empty bottles on your table,” he says.
Comptoir Darna is located in the Hivernage – it’s a little ways from the medina but worth the journey. Decorated in alluring reds and soft silks, this restaurant-bar puts on a full evening of entertainment every night of the week, featuring belly dancers, gnawa musicians and more. The only catch is that it’s definitely on the pricier end of the scale.
Even farther out of the city, south of Les Jardins de l’Agdal in Douar Lahna, is Bô Zin, a massive indoor-outdoor Asian-themed cocktail bar. While technically a restaurant, Bô Zin is especially popular later in the evening, when DJs pump out a mix of dance and electro music until 2am. This spot is an all-night event and one that won’t be light on the wallet. As De Gzell notes, it’s not an everyday experience.
Baromètre serves some of the best cocktails in the city. Try one of the many medina-inspired drinks featuring spice-infused spirits – the Rosée du Matin is particularly delicious. Make a booking on weekends. And while you’re here, try the restaurant, too – the food is thoughtfully curated, beautifully presented and downright delectable.
The Chesterfield Pub is on the first floor of the Hôtel Nassim, complete with comfy chairs, large beers and an unpretentious vibe. The decor is meant to resemble a classic English pub, and it doesn’t do too badly. If you’re in need of somewhere to watch the football, you can’t go wrong with the Chesterfield. There’s also a small outdoor courtyard and a pool that you can take a dip in for 50 Moroccan dirhams (£4.75) if you so desire.