In Marrakesh, a Family-Style Dinner in a Secret Garden

The Moroccan restaurateur Kamal Laftimi, 53, grew up on the edges of Jemaa el-Fna, the main public square of Marrakesh and an entrance to the city’s historic medina quarter. All day, and late into the night, travelers, musicians and local families wander through its cafes, souvenir shops and food stalls, against a soundtrack of hawkers’ shouts and the calls to prayer from the nearby Koutoubia Mosque. “The square is always changing,” said Laftimi recently in the leafy courtyard of his latest restaurant, the Pétanque Social Club, located outside of the medina’s ancient walls, in the upscale neighborhood of Gueliz. “You [go there] in the early morning and then a few hours later, it’s got a whole different atmosphere.”

Laftimi’s projects, which are scattered across the city, have always involved designing and curating lively meeting places. It’s as if he’s continuously recreating small versionsof the Jemaa el-Fna he knew as a child — one where exciting, unpredictable encounters are the norm. At the first restaurant he opened, the Café des Épices, the tables spill out into a small, bustling spice market, less than a 10-minute walk from the square; from the restaurant’s earliest days, in the mid-aughts, it was “a place where people spontaneously began chatting and exchanging ideas,” Laftimi said. “We still have some of the original customers from that time.” Almost 20 years later, he continues to create dynamic culinary hubs. The Pétanque Social Clubis the latest project through which he hopes to foster an expansive creative community.

A dining room at the PSC is filled with plants and flea market finds. The space’s designers Diego Alonso and Alexeja Pozzoni reused and reupholstered chairs that they found in the original space.Credit…Ilyass Nazih

The new restaurant is named for its original incarnation as a 1930s club where French colonists played pétanque — although by the time Laftimistarted frequenting it back in his 20s, it was a decrepit but cool place to drink beers with friends. It’s one of the few gathering spotsleft in the rapidly developing neighborhood that still has a large courtyard garden, and Laftimi had been trying to buy it for years. “All the other buyers wanted to tear this down and build high-rise apartments,” he said. “I wanted to preserve it.” After finally acquiring the property in 2019, he spent the next four years restoring the vast courtyard and its attached 2,000-square-foot building — which now consists of four dining areas, a bar and an open kitchen.Today, the PSC, as it’s often called, is concealed behind a worn wooden door set within a wall of illuminated, amber-colored glass bricks that faces the Boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi. Until now, Laftimi had resisted putting up a sign, and the place had remained a secret among a small group of Marrakesh locals. But he’s ready to open the doors fully. “Originally I had considered making this a private club, but I never want to be exclusive,” Laftimi said. “I made this as a hangout for the city’s creatives.”

At the bar, Kamal Laftimi speaks with Fatima Zohra Bennani Bennis, the founder of the Marrakesh-based MCC Gallery, which focuses on contemporary African and African diasporic art.Credit…Ilyass Nazih

On a cool fall evening, Laftimi welcomed friends to the PSC ahead of its official public opening at the end of this month. The dinner was one of the first celebratory events that many of the guests — all based in Marrakesh — had been to since the devastating earthquake that hit Morocco in early September. The city had suffered some damage, but it had survived and repaired itself, and a sense of gratitude suffused the evening. “Everyone came together to help, from all over Morocco,” said Laftimi, who continues to support some of the victims in the Atlas Mountains. Now, Laftimi said, he’s more driven than ever to cultivate a strong and enduring community — in the creative industries where he finds inspiration and in the city that he calls home.

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