If you’re into Tiki Bars or you’re into Rum, chances are you’ve had an unusual twitch of anticipation pointed in the direction of San Francisco for the past few months.
Martin Cate, formerly of Forbidden Island, still a destination spot for Tiki aficionados, has announced the opening of his new Rum Bar, Smuggler’s Cove, in San Francisco this December. I got a chance to attend a sneak preview of Smuggler’s Cove this past week, and oh what tropical delights awaited within.
The spot, at 650 Gough Street, has little to speak of on the outside but a port and starboard light, giving little clue to what lies inside. Once inside, you are hit with a “seen to be believed” amount of nautical and polynesian decor. Smuggler’s Cove has 3 tiers of seating, including two bars and full-wall waterfall, which came with the lease, though modified with a rock facade for the theme. Why this spot was an instant must-have for Martin’s new realm, couldn’t imagine.
The decor and setting, developed by local artist “Notch”, Ignacio Gonzalez, is breathtaking. Like Disneyland for grown ups, it does have a bit of a “Pirates” flair to it, but keeps true to Tiki with decor from Tiki Bars past, and dedications to former Polynesian Paradises of San Francisco. You will find items from the Stockton Islander, Trader Vic’s SF and Chicago, goodies from Oceanic Arts, and even a few new pieces created by Notch, currently creating their own provenance.
To call this a Tiki bar would be fine, sure, but it is even moreso a Rum Bar, with an emphasis on a significantly vast Rum, Rhum and Ron selection, and all mixology elements which follow. Of course, where Rum goes so does Tiki, and there are plenty of tropical delights alongside the classic Daiquiri and Rum Punch. Everyone from the rum newbie who is only familiar with Spiced Rum and Coke, to the Rum Gods who sit on boats in the Caribbean will find something interesting and new here.
The Rum Selection is vast and bounteous, featuring odd bits here and there, as well as many classics rum aficiandos will recognize from their own shelves. From readily found White Puerto Rican Rums to to the all but unavailable last few drops of British Royal Navy Rum, every country and every coastline has some representitive in the lineup, ready to be tasted or mixed. Even Martin has developed house rum, beer, and wine. The Rums include Eurydice, made at nearby St. George Distillery, as well as a “Special Reserve” house Demerara Rum provided by El Dorado.
The bartending team is an allstar cast of local and newly local bartenders from hotspots such as Heaven’s Dog, and L.A.’s Varnish. They’ll be manning the downstairs and ground floor bars, featuring unique equipment that, as one bartender noted, will make it hard to go back to the old three-sink and shake. The drinks available at the preview included one of my favorites, Three Dots and a Dash, which was incredibly delicious, exploding with allspice and strong rum.
Some of the running features of the menu will include punch-card clubs, with a tiered system of rums to sample, and the accolades that follow, such as brass plates behind the bar, and even a tour of a Rum distillery with Martin Cate.
Opening in just a few days, on Dec. 8th, Smuggler’s Cove has a bright, albeit dimly lit future in San Francisco as a real destination for Rum Lovers or newbies, Tikiphiles, and people who just want to have a good time. If you won’t get a chance to be there, I took a bit of a video walkthrough. Enjoy!
The second stop on our San Francisco trip is the sweet and petite Bamboo Hut on Broadway. The Bamboo Hut is unassuming from the outside, seated between a few adult DVD stores, but once inside the Tikis realy stand out, as well as a few poles, Lauhala matting, and puffer fish scattered about.
Volcano Bowls are regularly brought down from the shelf for excited patrons, ready to share a drink with a few friends (or sneaky strangers with excessively long straws). The Bamboo Hut serves a decent amount of Tiki Themed Drinks (though note, I did not say decent drinks), with their signature being finger-lit Volcano bowl. If you don’t know the finger trick, well, let’s just say learn the ways of 151 from a pro before attempting at home. Bad things can happen .
The Bamboo Hut is the end of the Tiki Adventure on Friday night, and tomorrow brings us to Forbidden Island and a few more East bay drinking spots.
Though not the first stop on the crawl, our first stop in San Francisco found us at the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel. The Tonga Room has been around in various forms since the 1920s, making it a regular watering hole for San Francisco tiki-philes. Speaking of water, it’s one of the only restaurants you’re going to find with its own floating band stage, and rain storms on the hour every hour. At one point in its lifespan, it was the hotel pool. If there’s anyplace to catch a glimpse of what Tiki was in San Francisco, this is it, as you dine underneath the thatched roof of a long house, where outrigger canoes and tiki masks hang amidst balinese statues and a buffet bar you’d swear was about to set sail.
You can find their famous Tonga Room Mai Tai and Tonga Zombie in Sippin’ Safari and Intoxica, respectively. Each drink comes in its own souvenir mug, which are NOT to take home, though a few have found their way out in random legwarmers and purses.
The Tonga Room recently underwent a renovation, and tikiphiles everywhere were able to breath a sigh of relief as “renovation” typically means “turning into a discoteque”. This was more of a restoration, bringing back a bit of the original shine of the walls and matting, as well as a thorough cleaning of the pool. Whoever got to pick up the pennies that day could surely own their own island today.
The Tonga hut is just the first stop for us, then it’s off to the Bamboo Hut!
Once again, time is marching on and another Tiki Central San Francisco Tiki Crawl is upon us! Coming up October 9th through 12th, this will be a doozy of a trip, as no decent Tiki Bar in the San Francisco Bay Area, East Bay and even South Bay will go untouched by the love of the Tiki Bus.
That’s right. 50 some-odd (and some very odd) Tikiphiles, packed on a bus, hitting the Tiki hot spots in the Bay Area. Drinks on the bus, drinks off the bus, and more often than not, a few drinks hosed out of the bus the morning after. Thanks to the fine folks at Mount Gay Rum, I’ll be headed down to cover the event on Friday and Saturday evening. Because drinking vicariously is still slightly better than drinking alone.
Thursday Oct. 9th starts off the show in the south bay with Smoke Tiki in San Jose (my old home town), and Trader Vic’s Palo Alto. Unfortunately, Martini Monkey in the San Jose airport will not be part of the crawl, as it is now behind security gates. But, if you’re flying in to SJ and have a moment, I’ve been and recommend it highly as the best Airport bar I’ve been to!
East Bay Saturday will be an evening to remember. I’ll be riding the bus all the way from Forbidden Island to Oakland’s Conga Lounge, the Kona Club, and finally settle in for an exotica event at Trader Vic’s Emeryville with The Mai Kai Gents!
Slowdown Sunday will be a relaxing pot luck feast at Forbidden Island, before everyone heads back home to their respective haunts.
Hope to see you there, just look for the guy in the Hawaiian shirt… (see, this is why I wear the Pith Helmet)!