An Afternoon Drink at La Mamounia Hotel’s Bar Italien

The circumstances under which I found my way to the iconic La Mamounia Hotel for a cocktail on my last day in Morocco could not be accurately described as pleasant ones. Because of necessities imposed on us from beyond, my boyfriend flew home to New York a day before me, leaving me with one last solo afternoon and evening in Marrakech before my own flight the next morning. We’d left the coastal town of Essaouira at five that morning for the three-hour drive back Marrakech, where I’d booked a room in a reasonable-seeming all-inclusive hotel, thinking that doing so would alleviate some of the stresses of existing solo in that city. It was my first bout with an all-inclusive, and will likely be my last.

The bright side of the experience came only after an extended skirmish with the front desk staff over the very existence of my reservation and a subsequent two-hour nap, after which I awoke to find myself within walking distance of both Marrakech’s famed gardens and La Mamounia. It was a side of the city I hadn’t explored earlier in the trip, and it was the right amount to take in with my remaining time. Also, I had a wad of Moroccan money that needed to get spent.

I walked from my own hotel to a public garden, then past the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque and through another garden. Coming out on the other side, I then arrived at La Mamounia via a trafficked cobblestoned avenue. This didn’t feel like a place typically approached on foot, but no one seemed to take an interest in me when I did. After an imposing climb to the front entrance and before finding the bar, I took a detour around the hotel’s public areas. Built on still intact 18th century gardens gifted by King Mohammed Ben Abdellah to his son on his wedding day, the grounds are fabulous, sprawling, and cloistered from the hubbub that defines the Marrakech beyond its walls. The hotel opened here in 1923, and in 2010 reopened after a roughly $180 million facelift. Today, as in past decades, it’s generally recognized as the crème de la crème of Marrakech hotels.

Without a doubt, there is splendor here, around every corner and in every nook, even if it does come with a feeling that none of it is meant to be touched, much less lived in. Some rooms were weirdly devoid of activity and although beautiful, bade me to hurry along. After a walk inside and out, I returned to lobby and set out for that drink.

The Bar Italien's inner sanctum.

The Bar Italien’s inner sanctum.

There are a few bars to choose from within the hotel. Le Churchill is arguably the best known and comes with the recommendation of its namesake, Winston Churchill, who drank there often. But I settled into the Bar Italien, with its majestic ceilings and velvety extravagance. Its location is technically in a darker, sexier den off to the side of the Majorelle Gallery, named after the man who painted the ceiling in the 1930s. But table service extends to the gallery, and during the afternoon of my visit, this was the preferred seating. It’s a great place to sit alone with a cocktail, although I was the only one doing so. The larger tables in the center of the main room were filled mostly by groups consisting of at least a couple people who were related to each other. Tables for two lined the walls, where I took a seat, wishing that in this setting, the patrons might have oozed a little less “tourist” and a little more intrigue.

A quick perusal of the menu revealed a selection of cocktails each priced at the equivalent of $19 US, in a city where a cocktail, when you can find one, typically goes for $5. I ordered a mint julep, maybe because as a gal from Kentucky the discordance of it appealed to me. It came and was done well, accompanied by a selection of bar snacks: two types of nuts, along with olives that were definitively the least delicious ones I’d encountered on the trip, surprising in a country where the best olives I’ve ever tasted are abundant and can be had for next to nothing.

I ate them anyway, read a book for awhile, and became pleasantly tipsy from the cocktail–for $19 they make sure not to scrimp on the booze. I walked back to my own sad hotel in that state, freed handsomely of my remaining Moroccan currency.

Bar Italien
Located behind the lobby of La Mamounia Hotel
Avenue Prince Moulay Rachid
Marrakech, Morocco

Open daily from 10am to 1am

-by Sarah Stodola

Feature image credit Pink Tartan.

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Sarah is the founder and editor of Flung, the author of Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, and a widely published travel and culture writer. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.