Morocco in New York

The first time I walked into Café Mogador was close to fifteen years ago when I was in my twenties studying poetry and about to meet one of my mentors for drinks. Another time, several years later, I met one of my former students there for a post-gig meal. I had performed in the area that night and Mogador had the late-night ambience and outdoor seating that was the prerequisite for a spirited conversation about love and life. A great spot for a catch up, as it were.

More recently—like now—I’m sitting here midweek toward the end of the lunch shift listening to a director at the table next to me describe his new play to a potential collaborator, I think, while sipping an enticing concoction of Moroccan mint tea (iced) and homemade lemonade and waiting on a plate of chermoula tagine (the spicy green stuff …one of many signature flavors and, to date, my personal favorite) and chicken with couscous. It is one of Mogador’s staple dishes, and when it arrives, the rich aroma rises like a snake out of a basket from across the world, and, well, I’m charmed.

Like Morocco and much of northern Africa itself, Café Mogador is a confluence of ethnicity and culture, a place where worlds meet. Arab/Middle Eastern and French selections pervade the place but so does the savoir-faire of the East Village itself, which is perhaps NYC’s least hippified hip neighborhood. The staff has just the right amount of flirt and indifference, and the music is dialed in so as to make itself known but not interrupt. It’s a great place to come with a special someone, a group or solo—like yours truly today.

Family-owned Café Mogador has been doing something right for grad students, local artists, expats and people in the know looking for something otherworldly but close to home for nearly thirty years now. And recently it has taken its bastilla and vibe over the bridge into Williamsburg, so the journey across the Atlantic (for Long Islanders with a bug for travel) just got a little shorter.

alan semerdjian

Alan Semerdjian is a writer, musician, English teacher, and occasional visual artist. Besides LI Pulse, his work has appeared in Newsday, Adbusters, Chain, The Lyric Review and numerous other print and online publications, anthologies, and chapbooks. His first full-length book of poetry is In the Architecture of Bone (Genpop Books 2009). You can visit him digitally at and find out about his music at