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1962 or '63, Fadil playing at Gigi's with
Asghar Azarvand, Hoshang Moadelli, and Ali Azaclan

  The Gilded Serpent presents...
The North Beach Memories of
Fadil Shahin

Interview at the El Morocco Restaurant
in Pleasant Hill, California
on October 3, 1999
by Najia, Erin and Lynette
re-edited in 2007 by Aziza!

Fadil came to the United States in 1958 from Bethlehem (in Jordan, in those days) to go to school. He was preceded by his brother, Jamal, in 1955. Originally Fadil wanted to study music in Egypt, but was convinced by his brother that he could study music here in America. Fadil ended up majoring in civil engineering at Sacramento City College so he could get a better paying job. He also enrolled in music theory classes. He played the oud and sang for numerous international student parties and other school functions. In 1959 or '60 he was hired to play at an international student party at UC Davis. A Middle Eastern band from San Francisco was also hired to play, so they alternated sets. Antoine Maloof was the San Francisco band leader; Vince Delgado also played in that group. Antoine asked for Fadil's name and told him about their show in San Francisco, inviting him to come and see.  

In 1961, Walid Shahin, Fadil's younger brother, arrived from Bethlehem. On the way back from the airport, they decided to stop in at Gigi's to see the show. Antoine recognized Fadil and invited him on stage, where he played two songs. Antoine noticed that the numerous Arabs in the audience enjoyed the music.  "Do you want to work here?" he asked. Fadil answered, "I can't. I'm in school in Sacramento."   One month later, in 1962, Antoine convinced him to fill in on the weekend. The owner eventually convinced him to work every weekend. "It was tough - I was taking 16 units in school!" Fadil comments. After a few weeks, the owner gave him an ultimatum-- work six nights a week or lose the job. He chose to work. He worked at Gigi's and commuted to Sacramento for the next four months. That summer (1962) Fadil moved to SF and transferred to San Francisco State College. Fadil changed his major at SF State from Civil Engineering to Communications -- Radio, TV, and Film Production.   Gigi's had been just a pizza restaurant. They transformed it, putting in a stage. In 1965-66 the name PORT SAID was added to the name of Gigi's but was never added to the sign outside. Gigi's was located on Broadway and Columbus almost on the corner across the street from Casbah and Bagdad Cabarets.

Walid Shahin

Once at Gigi's there was a fight between Aisha and Tabura Najim. They had come from New York together and were thought to be friends. Aisha thought that Tabura had done something to her costumes, so she sabotaged Tabura's shoes by loosening the heels. When Tabura came down the stairs for her show, she fell down the last six stairs in front of everyone!  She was embarrassed, but not hurt too badly.

Fadil remembers that Gigi's dancers did go for tips.  (Dahlena says that was only Tabura). One dancer was Zoraida, a Puerto Rican girl who was married to a Greek gambler.  There were also wild and suggestive Turkish style dancers, like Aisha Gul and Tabura Najim (she was American, born of Syrian parents). The dancers from back east were very suggestive.
  The Vagabond was actually the first place to have Middle Eastern music. It was a very small bar in the Tenderloin opened by Naji Baba, Antoine Maloof, Louie Habib and Vince Delgado. They had a dancer from Algeria named Fatima. Fadil never actually visited there, but was told this by Antoine. The place was too small, so they went to Gigi's and about 1960, they convinced the Gambinos to start belly dancing shows.  They built a stage and redecorated the place. Roman "Bert" Balladine was not there at that time, he came later. Fadil believes that he was the one who initially got him interested in adding belly dancing to the performance things he was already doing.

The North Beach Scene

  • Often on weekends, people stood in line for two blocks waiting to get in to Gigi's.
  • Barbara Streisand was at the Hungry I in 1964-65,
  • Richard Pryor was across the street at the Basin St. West.
  • The Jazz Workshop also had big names.

In 1960 or 61, Naji Baba convinced the owner of 12 Adler to begin presenting Middle Eastern music and dance and then brought Jamila and Yousef to San Francisco. Adel Sirhan, Sirhan Sirhan's brother, was the oud player. They were all from Los Angeles. (Frank, the owner of 12 Adler, was Italian. Most of North Beach was Italian at that time whereas now it is mostly Chinese.) 12 Adler stayed open as a bar, but after a while, belly dance was no longer performed there. Jamila and Yousef went on to open the Bagdad in 1964. Yousef was not a citizen, so Jamila took out the liquor license and the name of the club legally on his behalf.

In 1964, Fadil asked Steve Gambino for a raise and his answer was negative, so Fadil left Gigi's and went to work for the Bagdad. He stayed there for a year and a half and then went back to Gigi's--all for money issues.  In 1965-66 the topless scene started to really take hold. In '67 Gigi's went topless too, and stopped the belly dance shows, so the dancers all went to the Bagdad. "Najia was there at the Bagdad then weren't you, Najia?"
Najia says, ''No, not 'til later."

When Gigi's closed-
At Bimbo's there was a group of musicians (including George Bedrosian) and a team of performers with a duo act. Fadil approached Mr. Bimbo and asked if he would like to have another group like that. Mr Bimbo specifically wanted a team - not solo dancers. Fadil said that he would work on it. Fadil formed a group of musicians and dancers, but still needed a duo. Fadil was working at Gigi's when Bert arrived from Germany with his wife. She would dance and he would do a fire eating act like a magician. She went back to Germany and Bert stayed here. Zahra Anise also was working at Gigi's in 1967. Fadil asked her if she would train Bert to work together with her as the duo. She taught him to dance with her and then he would do his fire act. They also had a solo with Mylene Kay. She would get two audience members up on the stage, and (it was a very cute act) have them do "bump the apple" (hip to the right, hip to the left) and "grind the coffee" (pelvic circle). They had a contract for six months.

(Dahlena went from Gigi's to the Bagdad. Dahlena says that the performers on North Beach would often have a breakfast show where they performed for each other. Fadil doesn't remember this, he says they went for breakfast sometimes at New Joe's because it was open late.)   After Bimbo's, Fadil went back to work for Yousef at the Bagdad. Yousef took him back even though he was still mad that Fadil had left him to work at Gigi's.  

Regarding the murder of dancer Lisa Miller:
Hassan came to the Casbah when Jalal worked for Fadil. Fadil knew him fairly well, as he came to Fadil's home to do some electrical work just two months before going to LA, where he killed his girlfriend, Lisa, by shooting her in the head.

Casbah's start
When Yousef was gone from the Bagdad for an extended period in late 1968, he left Fadil and Arousiak (Yousef's sister) in charge for about six months. Elmer, Arousiak's husband, managed the bar, Fadil the stage and the performers (musicians and dancers), and Arousiak took care of the floor. They did really well and the business increased by at least threefold. Some of the Arabs did not like Yousef, so they came when he was gone. When Yousef came back, Elmer told him he should give Fadil a raise because he had done such a good job. Fadil asked for $30 per night instead of $27.50. Yousef said, "Give me a couple of weeks." He delayed for several weeks until Fadil asked, "WHY? What am I waiting for, for $2.50?" and he told Yousef, "I have a degree that I could use or I could even start a place of my own."   Fadil also had an offer to go to Seattle to work but was still at the Bagdad.   There was a Japanese bar next door called the Club Fuji. When Fadil was walking to work he passed the bar and the owner was out front. Fadil asked how business was and the owner said, "Not very good!" Fadil asked to see the place and asked if the owner wanted to sell it. He said, "Let me talk to my wife." The next day he said that they did want to sell. Walid, Kamel Ayoub (now a Consul General to Jordan, he went to school with Fadil; they also used to play poker together) and Fadil went and looked at the place. Kamel was able to help them out financially as he worked for his uncle, who owned Kelly Fashions, a company that made shirts and pants for the American Military.

Fadil does not remember the story of the beginning of the Casbah the same way that Amina tells it. Walid, Kamel and Fadil looked at the Club Fuji and made them an offer. It was accepted, and within one week the deal was finished!  They had to apply for a liquor license and it had to be posted in the window for forty days. The day before the sign was to be posted, Fadil called Yousef, who was at home, sick. Fadil said it was urgent and he was told to come to the house. He went and told Yousef that he had found a place, and told him where it was and how it had happened. Yousef started weeping. He was stunned and did not know what to say. Fadil gave two weeks' notice and played the oud and sang for the two weeks. Three or four years later,Yousef ended up almost giving the Bagdad to Arousiak, who had divorced Elmer and married George Elias. Yousef had brought George up from L.A.   When the Casbah opened, it took 85% of the Bagdad's business away. In the mid '70's Yousef left for Spain for a year or two. When he returned, there was some sort of disagreement between Yousef and George. George took over; perhaps Yousef leased the club to him. There was some sort of conflict over the lease, but they had a "falling out". Yousef and Fadil stayed friends even when the Casbah first opened, but their friendship was never the same until he had the falling-out with George. Then they were close again. Later Yousef admitted that not giving Fadil his raise was one of the biggest mistakes he had made in his life. Yousef left and bought a house in Spain.

Amina helped remodel the Casbah. She often brought along Susu, who was just a baby at that time.

Selling the Casbah-
The Casbah was open from 1969-1984. Fadil had opened the El Morocco restaurant in August of 1978 in Concord, and was still running the Casbah at the same time. He was overworked and tired. While he was playing pool in the billiard place across the street from the Casbah, Sam Conte came in, and Fadil offered the club to him. The same group owned several places in North Beach: The Roaring 20's, the Garden of Eden, and the billiard place across the street. Sam came down to look at the place half an hour later, and he made Fadil a good offer. The business at the Casbah had really gone down by this time. All the sex clubs had driven away the families and even the tourists. Fadil accepted the offer, and sold the name "Casbah" along with the business. He was told it would still be a place to see belly dancing, but to tapes and not live musicians.  Fadil went by about three months later, and was shocked to see it now had nude dancers.

In 1988 he almost bought the Pasha with Jalal from Mike Deeb, but backed out at the last minute. The Pasha had been opened in 1970 or '71, by Habib, as a restaurant only, no entertainment. When Fadil was going to buy the Pasha in 1988, Jalal heard about it and wanted to be partners. Fadil originally said no, but then agreed.  (His nephews weren't in town yet or he would have bought it and had their help.) Jalal had no experience running a restaurant at that time.  Fadil and Jalal were in the deal for an equal amount of money and then Mike was to carry the remainder. Fadil started having second thoughts; his family reminded him that he was already working too hard. When Fadil backed out, Mike was very upset, "I've told everyone already!"  Mike knew if Jalal wasn't successful that the whole thing would fall back his lap again. At first he refused to sell to only Jalal, but Jalal and his wife , Saida, came up with the rest of the down payment. Three months later, Mike sold to Jalal.  

Other Notes
Naji Baba
died seven years ago. Both the oudists with the name "George Elias" died. Naji Baba had brought Najia to the original Pasha opening for insiders (not the public Grand Opening). Naji had a place on Green and Vallejo Streets in San Francisco which he called Naji Baba's. It only lasted about a year.   There was another club in town called the Papillion, a Persian place with a relatively short life. It had belly dancing and the music featured live santur.   Regarding the Musician's Union -- Fadil belonged to the Musician's Union for five years, but quit when they couldn't help him get a job after Gigi's changed format. Jobs for Middle Eastern musicians were limited.

Fadil's family

Nadir and Bashir's father was Jamil; he came to America in 1982 and plays oud. He now lives in Canada and is applying for citizenship. Fadil remembers that as a teenager, when the older brothers were away "we younger brothers would sneak in there and play the oud and other instruments and then put them back exactly the way we found them."

Fouad, Fadil's older brother, died a few months ago from several strokes. He was in a rehab facility after the first stroke, had more strokes and eventually died. Fouad was never quite the same after he lost a sum of money in Kuwait because of the Gulf War. Fouad started the music in the house. He used to have a band and the singer was - guess who? Jodette! Walid is fine and living in Bethlehem. Fadil moved El Morocco to Pleasant Hill in 1995. In 1998 Fadil, Nader, and Bashir bought the Marrekech Restaurant in San Francisco. Nader and Bashir perform there regularly.

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Ready for more?

Dancer & Teacher



Bert Balladine

Dancer & Teacher

Amina's North Beach Memories Chapter 6: Bert

Vince Delgado


Yousef Kouyoumjian

Musician & Club Owner

Mentioned in many of the stories including
Jamila and Yousef by Aziza!

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