"Rum is always rising in prominence for me," a fitting statement from Martin Cate, San Francisco's king of rum and the enthusiast behind the city's Polynesian palace, Smuggler's Cove. And, according to Cate, letting rum shine is the core essence of his 7-year-old tiki temple that's taken pretty much every award a bar could win—specifically for its collection of nearly 600 rums sourced from Barbados to Panama, which claim the spotlight in a bevy of almost 100 drinks.
But beyond the novelty of sipping tropical drinks garnished with flowers and pineapple wedges in a ceramic mug that grins back at you, like many tiki meccas, Smuggler's Cove is an experiential bar, a temporary respite from reality. "People find an escape in a secluded hideaway, where it's always dusk, the sound of water and soft music permeates the room, and a refreshing exotic cocktail is always within easy reach," says Cate of Smuggler's Cove.
Colored lanterns and fish netting fall from the ceiling, alongside other found objects and knick-knacks reminiscent of boats, the ocean, and the tropics. Consider it a cheap ticket to Polynesia—and that's the point. Cate has built and cultivated a bi-level vacation box. One that delivers the same sense of escapism which tiki culture offered Americans during the mid-20th century—and it was this dip into fantasy that helped the movement thrive back then, and again now. "In a world with constant media intrusion, it's relaxing to check out, even if only for a few hours," he adds.
Recipes, rum ruminations, and the history of tiki in America are the subject of Cate's forthcoming book, Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki. In it, he chronicles "how [tiki] was born and how it died, and the people and places that brought it back to life." Cate explains that he fell in love with tiki during the mid-90s while crafting exotic, rum-based tipples at home: "I first started sipping all the rums I was using, and wondered how they all came to be so wildly different ... And that spurred me on to make Smuggler's Cove more than just a tiki bar, but a real shrine to the spirit."
Smuggler's Cove is published by Ten Speed Press and hits shelves June 7. Get your rum on via Amazon, and check out the preview below: