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With the nation cheerleading for war in the Middle East, the au courant folks at Liquid City decided to make a stand. We're against bombing Baghdad. But getting bombed in Baghdad is another matter. In a secular, Morocco-via-Gotham kind of way. With plenty of sexy belly dancers to cheer us on. Trust us: When it comes to hot Arabian nights, these dark dens deliver.

It's Tuesday night and the Moroccan decor of KUSH(183 Orchard Street, 677-7328) feels like another universe. A glass of shiraz ($8) in hand, I zone out to spirals of smoke drifting from a hookah, the mellowing smell of mixed-berry tobacco, and the soft playing of a live Middle Eastern band. Uncomfortably superstitious, I steer clear of a tarot card reader installed in the back room and plop down at a table covered with mosaics. A veiled, orange-clad belly dancer shimmies by my candlelit table, and I suddenly get the urge to put all of the raks sharkiclasses I've taken to use. My moment arrives when the floor is opened up to women in the crowd, but as I munch on an appetizer duo (cheese and dried fruit, $4) and drink sweet Lebanese red wine ($8), shyness gets the best of me and my opportunity passes. Drat! —Keisha Franklin

A classic French bistro by day, DENIZEN(173 Thompson Street, 966-7299) transforms into a shadowy, velvety boîte on Sunday and Wednesday nights, when the drapes are closed and the bar fills with young Moroccan expats who kiss each other on both cheeks and drink mostly Cokes but sometimes glasses of pinot noir ($7). A handsome singer who looks no older than 19 works the throng, which claps and gyrates in the small, scattered spaces between tables. Around midnight, the belly dancer appears—an undulating vision in silver spangles and white gauze who hypnotizes with tinkling cymbals and oscillating hips. Oh, behave! —Carla Spartos

Don't let the unassuming facade of HAREM LOUNGE(47 Avenue B, 777-5454) deter you; the narrow space is a passageway into sultry Morocco—or at least the closest you'll get to North Africa on the Lower East Side. Sweet scents of flavored tobacco emanate from hookahs, leading the way into a dimly lit room where women and men move closely to the rhythms of a live band. Delight in a vibe-enhancing mangotini (mango nectar, vodka, triple sec, sour mix, $8) and feast your eyes on the fair dancers draped in silken clothing as they invite you to sway your hips. And if all your senses get overwhelmed, head to the billowy outdoor tent next door for a breather. Just make sure you come back, for you may upset the sultan. —Grace Bastidas

 
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