Tiki history is being made right now as I type this!
It’s exciting to be riding the third wave of Tiki and when people write about the history of Polynesian Pop twenty years down the road, another name will be added to the list along with Gantt and Bergeron. That name is Cate.
Martin and Rebecca Cate are behind the quintessential Tiki bar: Smuggler’s Cove located in San Francisco. They are writing the new rules on how Tiki should be and the proof is in the success of any bar the Cates have been involved with. This list includes Hale Pele in Portland and False Idol in San Diego. The Cates wrote the book Smuggler’s Cove and it’s the Alpha and Omega of Tiki. It talks about the history of Tiki, what’s going on now, and where Tiki is going. I don’t think I have tell you that this book is required reading for all Tikiphiles! Rebecca Cate is the woman behind all this Tiki awesomeness and here is her story…
What is the Tiki scene like in the Bay Area?
Rebecca– Ever since we got involved in the Tiki scene in 1998, we have found the Bay Area to be a very welcoming scene. Home party hosts and their guests are always super generous and friendly and there are some truly amazing home bars here—better than many commercial spaces. And, of course, in terms of commercial bars, we are ridiculously spoiled here with great Tiki bars old and new. Of course, I’m a bit biased as to which one you should hit up first. 😊
What brought you into the “Tiki lifestyle” and how long has it been part of your life?
Rebecca- Well, Martin describes his journey into Tiki in our book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki. It was really his passion for Tiki that got me hooked. When we threw a co-birthday birthday party with a third friend in 1998, Martin suggested Tiki as a theme and began to dive down the cocktail rabbit hole. It was in throwing that party that I began to see the light of the Tiki torch. Creating an escape in décor and drinks and seeing the pure joy on people’s faces as they walked around our apartment, I began to understand the magic of Tiki. After the party, as we looked around at the leftover décor and booze. When Martin asked what we should do with it all, I jokingly said, “We could build a home Tiki bar.” His face lit up like a kid at Christmas and the rest, as they say, is history.
Can you give a little history of how the bar Smuggler’s Cove came together?
Rebecca– After Martin sold his ownership stake in Forbidden Island, we thought it would be quite a while before we found a space. But, no rest for the wicked, as they say. The space came up right away and even had a waterfall! We hadn’t had a chance to look at much else and wondered if we should take the first thing we saw. But, we’re so glad we did. The interesting three-story layout adds so much to the experience and, as it happened, we didn’t see any other spaces come up for several months after. Martin knew he wanted to have a traditional no-compromise Tiki space, but also to expand to the whole history of rum. This helped drive the décor and especially the menu that takes you on a historical journey through centuries of rum cocktails. We wanted to do more than just have a rum club and wanted to incorporate an educational component—a model we have now duplicated at False Idol. You read and drink your way through several rum styles so that when you dive deep into the hundreds of rums on our shelves, you have a much greater appreciation and understanding of what you’re drinking.
Can you give a little history of how the book Smuggler’s Cove came together?
Rebecca- We have one man to blame…er…I mean, thank: Jonah Straus. He was a literary agent who was a fan of Smuggler’s Cove and originally suggested the idea. Martin really didn’t have any desire to put out a coffee table book with pretty pictures and recipes. He turned Jonah down a few times and Jonah finally really pressed Martin on WHY he didn’t want to do a book. Martin told him that if he was going to do it, he wanted it to contribute something new. He wanted to put the drinks in a larger context and, especially, to put the bar Smuggler’s Cove in larger context. Smuggler’s Cove would not exist without the Tiki forefathers like Donn, Vic, and Steve, but it also wouldn’t exist without the Tiki Revival. People like Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Sven Kirsten, and Otto von Stroheim, all of whom we profile in our book, were a big reason that Smuggler’s Cove came to be. The bar Smuggler’s Cove has also always tried to be more than just a showcase for rum in exotic cocktails and to be a showcase for the entire history of rum, so any book about Smuggler’s Cove had to also include a history and guide to rum. We also wanted to really explain important components to the exotic cocktail and some tips and tricks of the trade as well as how to create a Tiki environment of one’s own. The book’s scope was ambitious, but Jonah didn’t blink and saw no reason that the book couldn’t be all of that. Ten Speed Press was a willing partner and helped us bring it all to life (and agreed to more pages when we ran over!).
What is your favorite Tiki drink? What do you think makes the perfect cocktail?
Rebecca– I try not to choose favorites, but if you ran a report of the drinks I’ve consumed at Smuggler’s Cove in the last seven and a half years (please no one do that!), my most-ordered is the Demerara Dry Float. This fascinates me because I normally CAN’T STAND Maraschino Liqueur. Even a trace amount in a cocktail and I’ll wrinkle my nose and say, “Oh. It has Maraschino.” The Demerara Dry Float is the absolute exception to the rule. It beautifully follows the exotic cocktail formula and is a perfectly balanced wonder. Plus, at Smuggler’s Cove, it comes with a side of danger! Who doesn’t need a little danger?
Outside of great drinks, what do you think are essential elements in creating the perfect Tiki environment?
Rebecca- Lighting is everything. No windows is an absolute must. But, beyond that, how the inside is lit. It should feel like perpetual dusk, lighting where everyone looks good. I also love lots of ephemera. That is the absolute beauty of the mighty Tiki-Ti. Every time I go I see something I didn’t notice before. There should be little hidden gems here and there. A visual journey that gives your eyes something to feast on while your taste buds feast on your delicious cocktail.
Do you feel that music has an important role in creating a great Tiki experience? What would be some of your favorite artists and albums?
Rebecca– A soothing, romantic exotica and traditional Hawaiian soundtrack is very important to creating the Tiki experience. If I hear exotica anywhere, I’m immediately wistful of my last visit to the Mai Kai or Trader Vic’s and want to drop what I’m doing and run for the closest Tiki bar. I enjoy the classic artists like Denny, Lyman, Sumac, etc. and any contemporary artists who successfully create that feel. I find surf music can sometimes be a bit harsh in a Tiki bar, but it definitely has a great role to play in Tiki. If you’re attending a Tiki event or home party, an upbeat soundtrack with surf music is key to creating a fun and lively and energetic atmosphere.
What is your favorite Tiki bar, not including your own?
Rebecca- There is nowhere on Earth that holds a candle to the Mai Kai. I have been fortunate to have visited dozens of times now, but when I walk in now it is like the first time. I still catch my breath, feel my heart beat a little faster, and can be brought to tears by its beauty and scale.
What does the future hold for you?
Rebecca- That is an excellent question. Fate stepped in a few years ago when I got laid off of my research day job right at the moment Martin was to start writing the book. To have the opportunity to co-author the book with him and then travel around the country on our book tour was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will always treasure. It also helped me gain a much greater understanding of the Tiki and rum world than I’d had before and has fueled the addiction to this world even more. For now, I’m plenty busy and content with being a part of planning and executing our role at Tiki and rum events around the world, doing all of the bookkeeping for Smuggler’s Cove, and taking on odd projects for Smuggler’s Cove and the other bars we’re partners in.
Anything else you would like to add?
Rebecca- Just to say thank you to all of the genuinely kind, supportive, enthusiastic Tiki and rum fans we’ve met around the world. You are the fuel that keeps Smuggler’s Cove running!
Here is my Tiki VIP write up on Martin Cate.
Want to visit Smuggler’s Cove? Here is the website.
And Facebook page.