Martin and Rebecca Cate, founders and owners of San Francisco’s iconic Smuggler’s Cove tiki bar, are coming to Chicago on Tuesday to sign their new book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki. Their bar, which has been included on the World’s 50 Best Bars list nearly every year since its 2009 opening and was this year’s Spirited Awards winner for Best American Cocktail Bar, features 80 cocktails and hundreds of rums. In their book, they explore tiki culture, history, and, of course, cocktails, including more than 100 recipes.
Fittingly, the book signing will be at Lost Lake, Chicago’s own tiki oasis, and tickets will include a copy of Smuggler’s Cove, a commemorative glass, and a Plantation rum cocktail made from a recipe in the book. Below is an excerpt from the introduction, in which Martin Cate recounts his 1994 introduction to tiki: a visit to Trader Vic’s in Washington, D.C.
Tue 9/6, 6-9 PM, Lost Lake, 3154 W. Diversey, 773-961-7475, $60, tickets here.
As we descended into the depths of this gray, austere space, my eyes fell upon a striking sight: the entrance to Trader Vic’s. The giant tiki carvings flanking the door, the bamboo, the flickering electric torches—you could not have imagined a sharper contrast to the surrounding hotel. As we entered, we found ourselves surrounded on all sides by woven mats, mysterious and dangerous-looking weapons, strange lanterns, and jade green tiles. I felt instantly removed from the noise and speed of modern Washington located far above our heads. The gentle sounds of traditional Hawaiian music whispered softly in the air, and the fragrant smell of citrus and gardenias filled the room. I silently absorbed the experience while my compatriots noisily ordered drinks for the table. Something in me changed on that frosty November night. What was this place? I didn’t understand what any of it meant. What were these fearsome totems and enigmatic masks? What culture, what era did they come from? Why were dried spiny fish suspended above me? These questions receded (for now) into the distance as our group settled into our cocktails. For, as promised, the drinks were as big as my head.
What I had stumbled upon (and stumbled out of ) was one of the last remnants of a decades-long fantasia that flourished in mid-century America. A creatively conceived celebration of the mysterious and “dangerous” world of the Polynesian and Caribbean islands that lay tantalizingly beyond our shores and out of reach at a time when the Great Depression curtailed travel. A world that sprung from the mind of one man in a vacated tailor’s shop in Hollywood, in 1933. The totems, masks, and weapons? They came from everywhere and nowhere—from centuries of cultural traditions and from the fevered imaginations of artists and designers living in Southern California. The American obsession with all things Polynesian began to spread through restaurant chains, film, television, and theater. Soon homes, apartment buildings, hotels, and countless businesses began to adopt ersatz South Pacific design elements like A-frame roof lines, tropical landscaping, and tiki gods guarding the front doors. But at the heart of this aesthetic fad were some of the most unique and interesting cocktails ever crafted. The exotic rum libations that fueled this engine of madness are now deemed worthy to sit alongside the punches, highballs, sours, flips, and juleps in the pantheon of American cocktails. But these cocktails were more than just excellent and refreshing drinks. They brought a sense of adventure and escapism, promising a journey far from the mundane. Exotic cocktails, with their evocative names, elaborately layered flavors, and island-hopping blends of rums, were a vacation in a glass. Before color television and the Internet, before cruise ships were commonplace, and before Hawaii was a state, the journey to a far-off land began with just one sip . . .
Reprinted with permission from Smuggler’s Cove, copyright 2016 by Martin Cate. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprinting of Penguin Random House LLC.