Themed restaurants tend to come and go over the years as trends shift (Magic Restroom Cafe, we’re looking at you, kid), but thankfully one Mexican restaurant in Venice has proven to be the exception to that rule. Decked out from floor-to-ceiling with memorabilia from the classic 1942 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Lincoln Blvd’s Casablanca has earned generations of loyal customers since opening in 1980. And while the kitschy decor is certainly a big part of the restaurant’s charm, what keeps crowds coming back are the freshly made flour tortillas, a roving margarita cart with a huge tequila collection, and a friendly crew of employees that have worked there for decades.
If you haven’t yet been to Casablanca, chances are you’ve probably been to at least one of the half dozen other restaurants around LA owned by the same family. The roster includes Paco’s Tacos, Gilbert’s El Indio, La Choza, and La Cabaña, which opened in 1963 across the street from where Casablanca now stands. Carlos Haro, Sr., the late patriarch behind the family-run operations, moved to the US from Mexico in 1959 to open a restaurant. Originally from Guadalajara, he was a popular radio DJ in Nogales, Sonora, and later operated restaurants, a nightclub, and a movie theater in northern Mexico. A huge movie fan, Haro especially loved Bogart’s films and Casablanca was a favorite. The film stayed with him, and years after setting up shop in LA, he decided to dedicate one of his restaurants to the classic. Here’s what happened: