Ever since it opened in 2009, Smuggler’s Cove has been at the forefront of the cocktail revolution. Best American Cocktail Bar at the 2016 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards and 29th on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, it is often considered the best tiki bar in the world, but its broad appeal tells us it’s more than that: Smuggler’s Cove is a haven for rum fans and people looking for great hospitality. As if running a first class bar weren’t enough, owner Martin Cate is also behind gin joint Whitechapel and involved as co-owner or partner in three more places. And on top of that, he teamed up with his wife Rebecca to write the Smuggler’s Cove book, a widely acclaimed volume covering every aspects of rum and tiki culture – if you only need one 2016 cocktail book, this may be it. Surprisingly, Martin and Rebecca found time to speak to BarNews last fall and did it so eloquently that we decided to give you the best bits, verbatim.
BN: Looking at your book, it seems you didn’t get into tiki because of the cocktails or rum…
MC: I fell in love with the tiki aesthetics. The drinks were part of that. They sounded intriguing and dangerous. The ingredients were kind of vague, and promised you stuff like hair on your chest or to give you the strength to slay dragons… You know, the florid prose of tiki menus. It’s part of the experience, between the artwork and the music, you have the great drinks promising new adventures. I fell in love with everything and built a home tiki bar, tried to make the drinks to the best of my ability. And this is how I got to the rum. I tried to understand why we had to use four of them in one drink and how they worked together.
Over the course of more than a decade, you’ve dug very deep into rum’s history. Where does Cuba fit within tiki culture? You talk a lot about Don the Beachcomber and Jamaica’s Planter Punch…
Trader Vic and the Daiquiri?
Trader Vic fell in love with Cuba and put Cuban-inspired drinks on the menu, including the Daiquiri. He brought some of Cuba into play, but beyond drink inspiration, tiki and Polynesian Pop never put a focus on the Cuban culture itself. Cuba’s very much distinct in terms of music and arts and writing and food. It’s really unique. It’s so fascinating for Americans. Cuba is the forbidden fruit; we’ve been kept away from it our whole lives.
Although they’re not tiki, do Cuban drinks have a place on Smuggler’s menu? They certainly have one in the book.
RC: It’s not just a tiki menu. We’re trying to do the history of rum: 300+ years of rum drinks. We have the punches, the tavern drinks, the navy drinks… Cuba is a big part of that history.
MC: We did really dive into Cuban cocktails for the menu. We wanted to have a section about prohibition in Havana, so we got a few reprints of the Floridita menus, looked at Constante drinks, went back and forth, talked to so many people, read so many historical books… I can find ten answers to every question I ask about Cuban drinks to people like Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, or Simon Difford. We had these arcane discussions: « What about the Daiquiri #3 vs. the daiquiri #4, is this really like this or rather like that…. But wait, this one’s the basis of the Papa Doble… ». Things like that, you know. We’re really proud of that section.
The Smuggler’s Cove book is impressive because it’s so thorough. It seems to cover every aspect of tiki culture, rum history, and cocktail craft… How did it come about?
It’s our agent who pushed the idea. Initially, I didn’t want to do it but the I saw recent books with recipes for "tiki drinks" that were being published with all kind of horrible original recipes that don't fit the ethos and I thought, ‘that’s ridiculous, something needs to be done’. We wrote it in between opening our gin bar. It was crazy. Rebecca’s got a research degree and she was reading things like 1920’s reports on rum making technology in such and such country, because we wanted to really go into the details. It’s a manifesto of a sort. Not only do we believe that tiki has a look and a feel, which is why we support tiki artists, but we also want to qualify what an exotic cocktail is, and just try to make sure people understand.
Smuggler’s Cove – Exotic Cocktail, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, Martin Cate with Rebecca Cate, Ten Speed Press, $30.00