When all is seedy and scummy on Hindley Street; when spilt drinks, urine stains and vomit from the weekend past are washed into the pavement cracks by light rains; when ruffians saunter down the sidewalk; when iridescent and loud neon lights reflect scribbly words into shallow puddles; when all seems grey, and concrete, and just a little bit dirty, then there is Leigh Street.
Cobbled and cute, and nestled in-between Grenfell Street and Hindley, Leigh Street is home to some great eateries. White-table-cloth Rigoni’s, and the vibey Coffee Branch are just a couple. And in the midst of a grey Adelaide evening, there is the red warm Casablabla. A melting pot of Spain, Morocco, South America and Asia, Casablabla is a party; it’s as festive as the inside of a giant piñata, complete with cocktails and firey food.
Tuesday night at Casablabla is paella night. It is also salsa night. It is also really, really busy. Man friend and I escape the fresh Adelaide evening, and step into the palace of red. Stupidly having not made a booking, we’re ushered past the tables, past the partition fish tank and cosy booths, up the stairs and to the back of the venue, where one lone two seater table sits, sans ‘reserved’ sign. Happy and hungry, we know we want the paella so we order straight away. More happy folk file in the doors, and some set up camp at the tables across from us. Casablabla, where everything is red and black, is buzzing. And the whole place just glows.
The squat little round tables are a rusty gold, embossed and etched and oozing Morocco. The stools we sit on are also squat, and upholstered in a rough, but terribly well-loved chocolate leather. And just when you think you could be somewhere utterly exotic and far, far away, a disco ball Buddha head swirls around and around, suspended from exposed piping so thick you could get your arms around it, and flicks silver light over the floor and the walls, and then, then you remember just where you are. This tapas bar come club is unique mixed-bag and oh-so friendly.
Paella arrives. And I can tell by the peppery, saffrony, and seafood fresh wafts, that I’m in for a good time. It is delicious. There’s a creaminess to the dish that comes, not from cream, but from perfectly cooked rice. A squeeze of lemon and a smattering of fresh herbs, and as much as the paella brought heaps of taste to my mouth, it brought as much warmth to my belly, leaving me wholly satisfied on this chilly autumn night. Smokey and spicy and everything you want in a paella. The food and the vibe is quality. You walk in the doors at Casablabla and you instantly feel cool. Well, as cool as you can be without dreadlocks and a pet monkey.
And just when I thought I was done, a couple, who had for the last 20 minutes been perched on stools at the bar in front of us, take to a make-shift dance floor in an impromptu salsa. Any open space is filled with a flick and flurry to the chacha-ed tunes. And the posse of salsa dancers expands, pairing off to unashamedly groove to the beat. And as the everyday dancers dance, staff walk past our table, surprising us by clapping along. It’s a show of the uninhibited. And much to our delight, it’s free to watch.
The music showcases the brass section. Trumpets toot and waa, and in the spirit of the Buena Vista Social Club you can’t help but wiggle and shimmy your shoulders along. The Casablabla trimmings are golden like the horn section. Carved posts have licks of gold, pictures hung on walls are black and gold, and the flames of the candle flicker in the same colour.
It’s sad to leave such a happening place. The magical and oh-so-sexy beer garden, looking over the European cobblyness of Leigh Street, is packed with pleased patrons. No doubt the place will be bustling for hours after we’ve gone. Casablabla is heaps of fun, where people dance without inhibitions, happily indulge in wonderfully-made food and relish the joyousness that comes from a great soundtrack. So while the vomit and the piss are a little bla it’s worth walking past if it means you’re on your way to Leigh Street, because Casablabla is anything but.