When strong mint tea isn’t quite strong enough.
Tell people you’re traveling to Morocco and one of the questions you’re bound to hear is, “But isn’t alcohol illegal there?” The answer is a resounding, thirst-quenching “No.” You’re not going to accidentally get drunk in this predominately Muslim country— self-proclaimed casual drinkers will die a dry death—but with a little hard work and perseverance you can pair your couscous with a delicious libation under the starry African skies. And, lest you think you’re forsaking the larger cultural experience, you’ll appreciate that mint tea and freshly squeezed orange juice come morning, when you’re likely to need a little hydration.
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According to a recent study, Moroccans are drinking more, 7 percent more to be exact, than they did a year ago. The attitudes and laws surrounding alcohol consumption are constantly in flux; in 2014 Marjane, a major supermarket chain, stopped selling alcohol due to local pressure, and in 2015 a new law was introduced in Casablanca shortening the hours alcohol can be sold. While there may be mixed feelings among Moroccans about the religious implications of getting one’s swerve on, if you’re a tourist, they’ll often accommodate your palate.
Buying Alcohol to Take to Your Hotel, Airbnb, or Desert Glamp
Drinking alcohol in the major cities is as easy as asking, “Where’s the fancy hotel?” However, once you veer off the tourist track or want to buy a bottle to take home, things can get a little tricky.
You’re not going to find alcohol for takeaway in the medinas, but most of the major cities have a Carrefour, a European grocery chain that sells everything from bread to blenders. Most of those Carrefour’s have a La Cave. Tucked away in a secret room of the grocery store, often with a separate exit around back, it’s usually well-stocked with spirits, beer, and wine. If you’re on a budget, skip the overpriced French imports and grab a $7 bottle of Domaine de Sahari red. Although you might find old blog posts pointing you to Moroccan hypermarket chain Marjane, Carrefour is your best bet and as you head south past Agadir, likely your last chance. Load up with as much as you can carry.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re in a pinch, trying scoring a bottle for takeaway at a nearby restaurant or hotel. A few pointers: try to hide your desperation. Order a drink, have some food and before they bring the bill politely inquire if they’ll sell you a bottle or two to take home. Be sure to have your own bag on hand to discreetly carry the goods out of the establishment and leave a nice tip—odds are you’ll be back.
The Local Beer
Yep, that’s right, not only is drinking legal in Morocco, they make their own.
With the biggest bottle, hoppiest flavors and steepest price tag, Casablanca is generally considered the fancy beer of Morocco. Coming in a distant second is Stork; think of it as Heineken’s red-headed stepchild. Rounding out the brew house is Flag Speciale, a watery pilsner that does the job in 90+ degree heat. Wipe your brow, close your eyes and it may as well be a Bud.
A visit to the Roman ruins in Volubis with its depictions of Bacchus, the god of wine, will confirm that people have been getting tipsy in Morocco for quite some time. French colonialists took viticulture to a new level in the 1920s when they planted vines across the country; by the 1950s Morocco was the world’s third largest wine-exporting country. Although the industry took a hit in the 1970s when many of the vineyards were claimed by the state, it’s enjoying a full-scale renaissance thanks to foreign investment and interest. Here are a few wineries of note:
Domaine de la Zouina: Located 20 kilometers south of Meknes, Morocco’s largest wine region is in the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains. Domaine de la Zouina produces Chardonnay, Rosé, Cabernet, Gris, and Syrah on a 115 hectares estate surrounded by olive and Cyprus trees. Tastings and tours start at 220 dirham ($24).
Les Celliers de Meknes: Home to Morocco’s “first viticultural cháteau” Les Celliers de Meknes is a 700 hectare paradise of vineyards, gardens and bubbling fountains.
Domaine du Val d’Argan: 30 kilometers from Essaouira, Domaine du Val d’Argan was established in 1994 by a French winemaker with ancestors in Algeria and is dedicated exclusively to grape varietals of the Rhone valley.
Domaine Ouled Thaleb: Established in 1923, Domaine Ouled Thaleb is the oldest vineyard in Morocco. Named after the local Berber tribe, Domaine Ouled Thaleb boasts 19 varieties of organically grown grapes.
Local Fig Liqueur (Mahia)
When there’s a plethora of any crop, leave it to us humans to find a way to make it alcoholic. Asia did it with rice, Russia did it with wheat, and Morocco’s done it with figs. Traditionally made by the Jewish settlers of Morocco, Mahia literally translates to “water of life.” Made from figs and herbs, this 80-proof clear liqueur is often compared to grappa. And, thanks to a Hudson Valley couple with Moroccan roots, you can taste it without leaving the States.
Drinking at Hotels
The easiest, quickest place to get a drink in Morocco is most likely going to be your hotel, or one near you. Most of the nicer hotels and Riads that have a restaurant will also have, at the very least, a short wine list. With bars tucked away in a quiet courtyard or hidden on a rooftop high in the sky, they are some of the more luxurious places to imbibe. A few to check out:
The Sky Bar at Le Salama: With one of the most extensive cocktail lists to be found in the medina, Sky Bar also has one of the best views. Grab a candlelit table and watch the world turn pink as the sun descends. (Marrakesh)
Drinking in Marrakesh
The liveliest nightlife of Morocco’s major metropolis’ can be found in the Red City, concentrated outside of the medina in the Gueliz and Hivernage neighborhoods. From belly dancing cabarets to smoky jazz bars to tranquil candlelit terraces, there’s something for every drinker.
Le Grand Café De La Poste: Head to the trendy Gueliz neighborhood to visit this beautiful 1920’s Parisian bistro done up in equal parts Moorish and colonial flair.
Kosy Bar: Indeed, a cozy, horseshoe bar with a fireplace to seal the deal. There’s also an umbrella shaded rooftop terrace overlooking the medina.
Comptoir Darna: In the mood for a show? Sip a martini while watching the belly dancers and gnawa performers of this eclectic venue in the new town. As the night progresses the soft sounds of the traditional Moroccan house orchestra give way to DJ’s spinning deep tribal house on the first floor. When your senses have had their fill, head to the candlelit patio for some R&R.
Le Palace: Ready to get fancy? Get dressed in your finest (formal dress code required) and head to this restaurant, cocktail bar, cigar lounge and club all rolled into one classy good time.
Entrepotes: Sip on local wines accompanied by a wide range of tapas at this gastronomic greenhouse in Gueliz.
Drinking in Fez
MB Lounge: A sleek stone and glass French restaurant and lounge in the heart of Fez. Find a perch at the small bar or sink into a comfy leather chair in the lounge.
Andalous: For those who like a light show or a ladies night, this is the ticket. A lounge bathed in changing colored lights, a terrace overlooking the city and tapas served from noon on.
Mezzanine: Five minutes from the bustle of the medina, take a deep breath and stiff drink on the breezy terrace of this modern, minimalistic bar and cafe.
Drinking in Essaouira
The hippies may be (mostly) gone but the chilled out vibe lives on. Fresh seafood and muddled fruit cocktails await at this windsurfer’s paradise.
Beach and Friends: Not the most inspired name, but after a mojito or two you’ll think it makes perfect sense. A favorite of the row of beach cafes on the south entrance into the city, sprawl out on a chaise lounge, nibble on a perfectly crisp thin-crust pizza and watch the camels roll their eyes at the kite-surfers.
Ocean Vagabond: “No Time—No News—No Shoes” goes the motto at this laid-back oceanfront bar/eatery offering a 2 for 1 happy hour and extended weekend hours.
Taros: Just off Moulay Hassan Square with live music and a sun-drenched rooftop terrace overlooking Mogador Island.
Drinking in Casablanca
A hard day’s work deserves a night’s hard drink. Much of the drinking scene in the city center caters to Casablanca’s business crowd while the club kids head to the beachfront suburb of Ain Diab.
Bar Du Titan: A proper pub in the center of it all with a friendly vibe and beer on tap. Grab a seat at the worn wooden bar and be transported to a place that doesn’t feel quite like home but definitely feels nothing like Morocco.
Le Chesters: Frequented by Casa’s after work cocktail crowd, the smoky bar at Chesters serves a Western-centric menu (read: hamburgers) with a DJ on hand that takes requests.
Ricks Café: For those looking for the Casablanca immortalized in the 1942 Bergman/Bogart vehicle, this may be the only place to find it. A real life re-creation of the fictional lounge, Rick’s features a champagne-centric cocktail list, live piano and the iconic film playing on a loop.
So, my fellow drinkers, take heart, you can drink in Morocco. It might take a little work, but it just makes the reward that much sweeter. Or, if you prefer, dry with a twist.