To be published in The Racquette on January 30, 2009.
Downtown Potsdam’s unique Moroccan restaurant, La Casbah, will open its spacious second floor as soon as Valentine’s Day—exactly a year after the restaurant first opened its doors. Renovations to the former Masonic temple—turned dance studio—will transform the versatile space into a catering hall and club. The opening will also spark the presentation of some non-alcoholic all age events and open mic nights.
Partners Hassan Hmyene, Alex Bennani and Rida Bourhouat brought La Casbah to Potsdam in 2008 after several successful restaurant ventures elsewhere. The restaurant has not only grown in popularity because of its flavorful foods, but because of the live music that it hosts all weekend long. The co-owners’ passion about fostering live local music is clear. “I am going to bring [live] music back to this community no matter what it takes,” said Bennani. The room will be furnished with the proper sound equipment for all sorts of live music, and will be able to facilitate rehearsals, jam sessions and live shows.
“When I came to Potsdam and found this young generation and this talent on these campuses I said, ‘this is what I want to promote,’” revealed Bennani, “I love it, I really love it.” “The owners there [at La Casbah] are very appreciative of us and they are always trying to find ways to accommodate us,” said senior music education major Benton Sillick, who plays in several groups that perform at La Casbah. Opportunities for young musicians are endless at La Casbah. Sophomore music majors Max Howard and Nick Natalie sometimes perform jazz selections during dinner hours. “It is very refreshing for musicians to know the Casbah is so open to all different kinds of live music,” said saxophonist Natalie. Both musicians cited the fun atmosphere and great music as things that keep them coming back to La Casbah.
La Casbah began upstairs renovations in the summer of 2008 with KMA Construction. The plan for the spacious room consists of a stage, a large bar, and a mezzanine with a great view of the full room. The need for space is evidenced by the sheer number of local college students who “come and they practice and they have a good time and they bring the crowd and everybody has a good time,” asserted Bennani.
The focal point of the new room is a beautiful red-stained hardwood bar with copper accents. It is easily twice the size of its downstairs counterpart. The room will potentially have a capacity of over 200 persons—a number that will not be definite until Potsdam Village code enforcement officer, John Hill, inspects the finalized space. The Village of Potsdam has been instrumental in helping La Casbah carry out its expansion.
While the majority of events held at La Casbah will remain 21+, a select few will be open to a younger crowd. On those occasions, for the safety of the attendees and the restaurant’s credibility, the bar will be closed, and non-alcoholic refreshments will be served. “When there is an event where a good band is playing and underage (persons) want to come, we will definitely have a solution for it by… [either] separating or bracelets,” said co-owner Alex Bennani, “we would be able to control it, but we have got to be very organized for it and be sure that there is no way that underage (persons) will drink at La Casbah.”
The exciting new addition to La Casbah should be open to the public on or around February 14, 2009. Musicians and music lovers of all ages will benefit from the new space.