Between the 1920s and 1950s, Tangier was a tax-free international zone isolated from the rest of Morocco and controlled by France, Spain and Britain, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Portugal, the United States and finally the Soviet Union!
It quickly gained a reputation for everything naughty, wacky and exotic.
I felt like a glass of wine...
Even now, it’s zany chords remain. Early one summer evening I decided to go for a drink at the Bar Pilo. The Guide said, unlike most bars, it wasn’t a brothel. I could have gone back to Caid’s Piano Bar at the Hotel El Minzah, but swank hotels are so passé.
The Bar’s frontage was low-key and there was a minder on duty. I had a flashback to a revolving vinyl 78 RPM my brother played when I was a kid. I loved the line: Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe…
The door opened a smidgeon and in I slid, holding my breath
and there I was:
I know a dark secluded place,
It was shady, with a long marble bar.
A place where no one knows your face,
Well that was definitely the case.
A glass of wine a fast embrace,
Wine, yes – but the only other patrons were a very tall handsome woman, heavily made up in a long dress with lots of lace and I mean lots, and a feather boa; a short, middle-of-the-road man, well oiled, who I took to be deaf and dumb as he was miming madly at the bartender; and occupying the end seat, an inflatable lifesize Santa.
It’s called Hernando’s Hideaway ole!
Some places need time to absorb
My eyes rolled along the bar again, skirting the plastic flowers. Behind a wall of mirrors, glass shelves were stacked with every conceivable liquor. Wine came by the bottle, accompanied by a bowl of warm chick peas with some… tiny feet. Hooves actually. The barman, a small wizened man in a waistcoat and bow tie was quite jolly… “Baaaaa Baaaaa.”
“Lamb’s feet? Really? How tiny were the lambs?” Let’s not go there Gill, I answered to myself. Besides there were olives marinated in oil and lemon, more olives in harissa, crudities and crispy grilled fish. A feast without the feet.
The large lady in lace was standing with one foot on the bar rail. She moved closer and sat down. I fancied the round red-topped bar stools some counters in a game, but didn’t make my move – we smiled and established a rapport in minor key. She moved four stools back.
I looked around. The walls were deep, dark pink and the whole place was decked with Christmas decorations. Fairy lights, chains in coloured foil, tinsel, hanging stars guiding shepherds, a plastic Christmas tree, and best of all, the rest of the set of blow-up Santas each one smaller than the other. On a mirror, etched with outlines of a mosque, a painted Santa paused - seemingly impaled on a minaret.
After my third glass, the sinuous Arabic music wove the bizarre seamlessly into ardor and ecstasy. Forget the fast embrace, this would be a long drawn out affair. There was a TV tuned to a news channel with no audio and as I drank, I could have sworn the singing voice started emerging from the perfect agile mouth of the presenter who was swaying to the melody. Even the slightly soft Santa at the bar started to look interesting, well, really he was the only option.
It was time for me to go – just as the night was about to start.
Home to my hostel
I wound my way back to the Medina singing softly,
“Just knock three times and you will know, that you’ve arrived at Bar Pilo.”
Hernando’s Hideaway is a tango tune from The Pajama Game 1954. I love it!