That, according to a recent Michigan Law grad, is the winning formula underlying the shark bowl, the signature drink at Rick’s (officially named Rick’s American Café, à la Casablanca—a linkage that must be pretty mystifying to anyone who has both been to Rick’s and seen the movie), arguably Ann Arbor’s favored watering hole for the barely-over-legal-age. Yes, on Saturday night I paid up on one of my SFF auction items and went with a group of recent law grads to Rick’s. It pains me to confess that I think Dean Caminker, who fulfilled his end of his pledge a month earlier during the night of the 3Ls’ graduation bar crawl, probably was more fun than I. Honestly, I would have bet on me at the outset, because as a general proposition I am definitely more fun, but I suspect his undergraduate time at UCLA may have prepped him better for getting in the spirit of Rick’s shenanigans than my time at Bryn Mawr prepped me. Or maybe it’s just because I have a teenage daughter and I spent a lot of the evening thinking that if only I had pen and paper, I could have written notes for several young women dancers (not, to be clear, the law students accompanying me) to take home to their mothers, in the hope of sparking conversations about good choices.
I’d like to claim that the Dean had an advantage by going on an evening when Rick’s was packed to the gills, but that would be ridiculous, since the best part of the evening for me was the hour immediately following our 10pm arrival, when the place was eerily empty – the early arrival having been arranged in deference to my fuddy-duddy ways. I guess 10pm is fine in the winter, but in the more quiet summer months, the place appeared to be on the verge of going out of business until about 11:30. At about that time, as if by magic, the bar and dance floor became instantly crowded and I had a taste—oh, terrible choice of words—of the full-on Rick’s experience. Prior to that, though, I’d actually been able to hear people.
While I think I didn’t rise to the occasion quite as well as Dean Caminker may have, it was also much less, well, terrifying, than I had built it up to be in the months preceding. I have heard so many stories about Rick’s that I had come to think of the evening as a cross between some extreme Jersey Shore style partying and spelunking, or maybe camping in a forest with a lot of wildlife. (The Yelp* reviews bear me out here.) I seriously toyed with the idea of wearing hiking boots, but decided I couldn’t just pull that off as a sassy fashion choice; I thought a lot about whether bringing a purse would be safe, or whether I should just load up my pockets; and I carefully pre-hydrated. As it turns out, the survivalist aspect was overdeveloped in my mind. The place had normally functioning lights; the floor was much less sticky than I had been warned (thanks, though, to the people who obligingly pointed out some sticky spots so I could have that experience) — at no point were my toes in danger of being overcome by hostile liquid floor elements; and it was perfectly evident the entire time where the exit was (note to the person who told me he spent an evening there without being able to find the exit: you might have some kind of diagnosable condition).
But let’s return to the shark bowls, because they really do make a big impression. First, you hear a lot about making sure to choose the red shark bowl instead of the blue shark bowl—but WE were served GREEN shark bowls (without having been offered a choice). This was exciting, because even the veteran Rick’s aficionados claimed never before to have seen a green one. Now, some earnest folks on the Internet seem to think that a shark bowl can be reduced to a recipe, but that is plainly a misunderstanding of the free-wheeling shark-bowl genre. Members of our entourage, sipping carefully, tasted grapefruit juice and Triple Sec, and one claimed to discern bitters, but beyond that, it was a gustatory blur. My personal ability to taste was rendered ineffectual by the visuals—I drank something bright green. I would describe the taste as “weird.”
Despite my overall sense of the evening as anthropological, I can dole out some bits of positive commentary. First, I understood what was going on at Rick’s far better than I understood what was going on at last fall’s first-time experience, which was attending a football game; second, I found it incredibly endearing how all the law students combined ironic distance with a genuine fondness for the Rick’s experience. “I have never,” one told me, “cried here.” (That was one of the alternative blog titles I toyed with, along with “I took the pen cap off with my teeth; what the #$&* was I thinking?”—the latter having been uttered by me immediately after signing my credit card receipt.) They are mostly on the verge of spreading out across the country—and even the one who is working for a Detroit firm is unlikely to make many return trips to Rick’s—but clearly, Rick’s will have some nostalgic power for them for years to come. Maybe that’s the connection to Casablanca.
Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions