El Morocco

The El Morocco, owned by Italian immigrant John Perona, opened in 1931 on 54th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. During prohibition, it functioned as a speakeasy, but after 1933, the club became wildly popular and was often featured in the newspapers as a backdrop for celebrities and politicians. The club’s trademarks were the zebra motif, which covered the walls and bar, and the first use of the velvet rope to keep the crowds outside in line.

The El Morocco was a midtown club mainly frequented by white high society, including Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich and Jackie Kennedy. In 1950, Humphrey Bogart was banned from the club for life. The venue is also famous for Tito Puente’s live album Cha Cha Cha at the El Morocco (1948).

In 1960, the El Morocco relocated to the east side, 54th Street and Second Avenue. In the late 70s and early 80s, the club lost its dazzle and finally fizzled out after going through some incantations as a steakhouse and topless bar.

Although the club didn’t feature much in the Harlem music scene during the Harlem Renaissance, the name and zebra motif, along with the legend, were appropriated by a new club that opened as a supper club, night club and theatre on 145th and Broadway in 2008. The new El Morocco wants to recreate the famous latin nights of the original and has added he Leopard Lounge to the nostalgic zebra themed club area. It’s now a fixture of Harlem nightlife.


The Palm Beach Post
Mention of El Morroco in 1936 edition of The Palm Beach Post