Imagine a 200-ton, handcrafted wooden sailboat that took four years to build in a jungle in southern India. This ship will never set sail. The mast, sails and rigging are all elaborate decorations like a Hollywood movie set.
Gilles Macé, the owner and director of the ship and restaurant Le Dhow, knew he wanted to create something different.
“When you say ‘I’m going to make a restaurant on a boat in Morocco,’ people can’t understand what you’re saying,” Macé said.
Moored on the river between Rabat and Sale and measuring an impressive 47 x 10 meters, Le Dhow stands out. Expensive French cuisine is served to patrons reclining on cushions and surveying the river. Below the decks, the space becomes more like a nightclub. The dim lighting and low ceiling make what would be the cargo hold feel intimate and exclusive.
Macé, 53, sat casually on the deck of his ship, clad in a blue collared shirt and tan cargo pants. The light caught his chic rimmed glasses, as he talked expressively with his hands through a thick French accent.
“Now we must sell the concept,” Macé said. “This project is new. It’s a new adventure and every day it’s a new challenge.”
What many would consider eccentricity, Macé considers a tangible adventure. His original idea was a restaurant housed in a large zeppelin that would float around Cancun. Later he wanted a massive hot air balloon with a hanging basket that could hold up to 30 people. Finally, he landed on a traditional Middle Eastern-style wooden sailboat.
It was built completely by hand in Kerala, India from 2007 until its completion in 2011. The ship was then lifted by cranes onto a large tanker and shipped to Rabat. It now sits on the Bou Regreg River just outside the Medina, with a picturesque view of the Kasbah.
Clearly catering to an upper class market, Macé believes recent modern developments in the area make Rabat the perfect place for an upscale restaurant.
“The people with money in Rabat want to see more development,” he said.
“I chose to come here because I know that in the future there will be more business like this,” he said, gesturing toward the new apartment complex across the river in Sale.
But the landscape doesn’t yet seem to support such a blatant display of wealth.
Le Dhow has become a physical manifestation of the gap between rich and poor in Rabat. It is literally floating between the two disconnected worlds – between the shadow of the Medina and the bright new apartment complex across the river.
Macé gazed across the Bou Regreg River at the modern, attractively geometric apartments still under construction. To him, the new homes offer the promise of more to come. The gears in his head continued to spin, already planning the construction of a second ship.