Dutifully, I attended the Smuggler's Cove press preview last night. Stupidly, I forgot any sort of camera, so I don't have any images for you. But, happily, I can report that after a long wait, much anticipation, a lot of hype (from me) the place will live up to its high expectations.
What impressed me, though, was the way in which this rumored tiki bar surprised me. For one, it's not a cavernous tiki space like the Tonga Room (I hadn't been to Jade Bar, which was SC's predecessor at 650 Gough, in years, so I didn't really remember it), nor is it very "island" or "Hawaiian" as is Forbidden Island, owner Martin Cate's previous establishment on Alameda. Rather it's intimate, cozy and very maritime (think seafaring, wooden ships). Lots of rope, dark-laquered wood paneling, illuminated blowfish, harpoons and lanterns decorate the walls. It's truly a complete vision, and once you're inside the windowless space you feel completely disconnected (in a good way) from the reality of Hayes Valley right outside the completely opaque door.
These decor desicions back up Cate's premise, which is to not be exclusively tiki, but more oriented toward rum, rum connoisseurship, and rum cocktails (which include tiki as a subset). Rum, after all, was the spirit of pirates and seamen. The cocktails appear to be excellent. We were able to sample 5 out of what will be 80 drinks on the menu. That Cate can fashion rum, lime juice, raspberry syrup, egg white and bitters into something dry and sophisticated is testimony to his good taste. His rum drinks may feature lots of tropical fruit, but they are always balanced and complex.
To tell the truth, I've never been much attracted to the tiki concept. But Cate's vision of rum and maritime ways is something slightly different. And it's executed in so tasteful and total a fashion as to seem nothing like a blasé beach hut and everything like a welcoming haven from the torments of the vast, cold sea.