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Play it again, Sam, and again, and again

Moroccan bars try to cash in on Rick's Cafe from "Casablanca."

In the real city Casablanca, on the edge of the old medina, yet another bar bills itself as the true Rick’s — and spells the name correctly on the sign outside. Employees at this Rick’s had an unambiguous reaction to the claims of their Tangiers colleagues.

“Imposters,” said Mohamad Ladhem, 39, a waiter decked out on recent evening in a red fez and black tie. “That’s just a way of probably bringing in customers.”

Only five years old, this Rick’s Cafe was built by a former American diplomat, Kathy Kriger, inside a remodeled three-story Moroccan home. Like her cinematic counterpart, Kriger, lives upstairs from the place she runs. But her similarities with the Bogart character pretty much stop there.

“I never ran guns to Ethiopia,” said Kriger, 63, who spends days off with her small fuzzy dog, a 6-year-old Coton de Tulear named Pasha.

The only connection with the film Kriger claims for her place is that of homage. In case that’s lost on anyone, "Casablanca" plays continuously on a screen in an upstairs room.

The customers didn’t seem to mind that the restaurant had no link with the making of the film nor history dating to the war that inspired it. “So what?,” said Dave McGinnis, 49, from St. Charles, Ill., in a T-shirt that read Campus Rec Block Party 2008. “You’re in Casablanca and you’re at Rick’s. I mean that’s all you have to say.”

For McGinnis, the draw of the place and film were one and the same. “You want to escape,” he said. “Everyone wants to believe they would be brave enough to throw the beautiful girl away, go into the desert, fight the Germans and walk off into history.”

The scale of Kriger’s restaurant is more intimate than the sprawling cinematic Rick’s, but its decor pays scrupulous tribute to the film, from the arched ceilings, to the black-and-white tile, to the piano at the heart of it all.

Yet the piano player, Issam Chabaa, 43, offers a study in subverted expectations. A self-taught computer programmer with an affection for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chabaa speaks a decidedly more schooled English than Sam, his aw-shucks movie counterpart.

Chabaa said his employer doesn’t truck in fakery — she serves a real clientele, who seek good music and good food. If occasionally customers refuse to let go of their preconceptions, well that’s just a minor hazard of the job.

“I remember once someone came to me and told me, ‘But you’re not black,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you. That’s the way it is.’ ”

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