In 1972, the club’s manager, Govert Van Schaik, was slain by a disgruntled patron, a shocking event that led Abul-Jubein to take over management duties soon after. Four years later, he bought the club’s lease from Harvey and Haliday and began upgrading the food side of the business, hiring a succession of star chefs — including Andy Husbands, Ana Sortun, and Ruth-Anne Adams — to run the kitchen. Many have gone on to open their own critically acclaimed restaurants, and several returned the favor last August, preparing platters of smoked chicken wings, lobster rolls, and Sari’s lamb for guests at the farewell festivities.
Bigger changes took place in 1989, when the Brattle Street building underwent a facelift. Re-opening in 1991, the Casablanca was roomier than ever. Still in place, though, were murals depicting scenes from “Casablanca,” the largest of which was painted by Cambridge artist David Omar White, who died in 2009.
Darren McCollester, a Boston photographer who tended bar at the Casablanca in the ’90s, says part of what made the place special was Abul-Jubein encouraging employees to pursue other interests. Many worked on advanced degrees at Harvard and elsewhere, he recalls, while supporting themselves by pouring drinks and waiting tables. You never knew who might show up to shoot the breeze, either. One night, a tall man wearing a floppy hat and leather jacket walked in and ordered a whiskey. At first McCollester mistook him for a homeless man.
“Then I recognized him — it was William Weld, the governor,” McCollester recalled with a laugh. “The place had that Casablanca feel to it, though. Sari was always on the floor, greeting people. There was a constant hum.”
What will happen to the “Casablanca” wall murals is unclear. William Poorvu, the building’s owner, plans to offer them to the Brattle Theatre — at no charge — if they might find a new home there. “I don’t want to sell them,” Poorvu said. “My goal is to preserve them, somehow.”
Charles Hamlin speaks for many in calling the Casablanca’s demise “a poignant time to remember the fun we once had, what the Square looked like in those days.” He paused, then added. “There’s a little bit of sadness, too. But that’s OK.”
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org