Bouncer Explores the Familiar Charms of Smuggler's Cove, a Tiki Bar
From this week's Bouncer column:
I suppose the argument could be made that the world needs another tiki bar, especially after the sad demise of the Tonga Room. Cocktail purists will decry the idea as sooo 1990s, but who needs them and their faded Gearhead tattoos, anyway? S.F.'s latest has set up shop (hut?) in Hayes Valley; it's called Smuggler's Cove. I have a soft spot for these kinds of places, except for the fact that they attract amateurs, birthday parties, and moderate Republicans.
In the same vein as bars that choose one spirit and run with it (tequila, whiskey, etc.), rum is the focus of Smuggler's Cove. It ain't a bad idea, because there are some mighty tasty ones out there, and some even tastier concoctions that come from the "exotic" fermentation. Throw in our city's new love of boutique, gourmet booze mixing, and prepare to pay the folks at this concept bar at least $10 per drink. (Even more for punchbowls full to share with your friends.)
When I walked into Smuggler's Cove, it was so dark that it took several seconds for my eyes to adjust. This, combined with the fact that Yma Sumac was warbling loudly over the sound system, combined to almost send me sailing down the staircase that sits to the right of the door and leads to the lower level. I have certainly fallen out of a few bars, but falling into one is a different story. I teetered there for a while, trying to figure out which of the three levels my friends would have picked. The upstairs won out, and sure enough, there they were, sitting on the banquette and perusing the menu.
Do I really need to describe the decor? Colored-glass hurricane lanterns, dried grass gimcrackery, coffee tables made out of faux rum barrels, and an all-together yo-ho-ho shtick. Nothing to complain about.
We decided what we were getting and took turns going downstairs to order. I went first, and squeezed into the last remaining opening at the bar. The bartender looked like Jack Tripper on vacation, which was awesome. I told him to give me something "bamboozley." Without skipping a beat, he began to grab bottles from hither and yon. He poured everything into a long metal cup, then whirred it in a blender. When he was done, he dotted it with an orchid blossom. Dang. I tasted it immediately, to see what I was getting into. It was delicious, with pineapple and ginger. Good drinks will be the saving grace of this place, elevating it from a short-lived den of kitsch to something that just might have staying power...