Marrakesh's rebirth as a tourist destination has brought with it a vibrant nightlife beyond the snake charmers and belly dancers. The city is now North Africa's nightlife capital, attracting a young and hip mix of Europeans, moneyed Moroccans, fashionistas, and party people from all over the world.
The Medina scene heats up early and is rather traditional, as at Place Jemaa El Fna, where fire twirlers, acrobats, and gnawa musicians hold court after sunset. Cocktails aren't part of that scene, but there are now a few places in the Medina authorized to serve alcohol. Just off the main square, the Piano Bar at the Hotel Les Jardins de la Koutoubia is a Moroccan take on the colonial gentlemen's club, complete with a cigar menu, red-leather chairs, wood-paneled walls, and ornate chandeliers. It's best for an early-evening drink or a nightcap (26 Rue de la Koutoubia; 212-24-44-08044; www.lesjardinsdelakoutoubia.com). For an alfresco evening, the terrace at Café Arabe (a five-minute walk from Jemaa El Fna) is popular for drinks and conversation (184 Rue Mouassine; 212-24-42-97-28; cafearabe.com), and in the Mellah, KosyBar serves up wicked mojitos and caipirinhas plus romantic views of El Badi Palace's floodlit walls from the terrace (47 Place des Ferblantiers; 212-24-38-03-24).
Things get funkier outside the walls. Off Avenue Mohammed V, between the Medina and Guéliz, Afric'n Chic is a laid-back club with live music (from samba to Moroccan rap) and a small dance floor that fills with young Moroccans starting at 9 in the evening (6 Rue Oum Errabia; 212-24-43-14-24). Next door, Diamant Noir, the Hotel Marrakech's subterranean disco, which opens at 11 pm, draws an equally young crowd and is one of the city's most gay-friendly hangouts (Place de la Liberté; 212-24-43-43-51). Across from La Mamounia hotel in the Hivernage neighborhood, Jad Mahal is a swank addition to Marrakesh by night: a bar, restaurant, and dance space in a palatial villa decorated with an outrageous mix of East Indian and North African motifs (Fontaine de la Mamounia; 212-24-43-69-84). Théâtrothe city's reigning high-decibel late-late-night dance palaceoccupies the former multitiered supper club of the vintage Hotel Es Saadi. It's just a few blocks away from Jad Mahal, but it's best not to walkthe blocks are long, and you'll no doubt get lost. (Ave. Es Saadi; 212-24-44-88-11; www.theatromarrakech.com). The scene is even wilder at Pacha, sister to the iconic Ibiza mega-club, which lies two miles from Hivernage in the Zone Hôtelière de l'Aguedal (212-61-10-28-87; www.pachamarrakech.com). Sooner or later, everyone winds up at Le Comptoir, a glamorous Hivernage restaurant and nightclub resplendent with black and red tadlakt walls with multiple terraces, lounges, and bars. Drinks are expensive, the clientele a cosmopolitan cross section of expats, Marrakshis, wealthy party people from Casablanca and Rabat, and quite often a posse of "available" and very beautiful Moroccan and Russian women hanging out at the big bar. The grand staircase, littered with pink rose petals, doubles as the stage for belly dancing production numbers straight out of a 1940s Hollywood movie (Ave. Echouhada; 212-24-43-77-02; comptoirdarna.com).