Martin Cate serves up authentic tiki drinks at Smuggler's Cove 

Smuggler’s Cove

Martin Cate, the brilliant man who opened Alameda’s Forbidden Island, loves keeping it real — especially at his latest venture. Even if tiki culture is at its core fake — that is, it’s an entirely false American interpretation of what the South Pacific was like — his trilevel bar in Hayes Valley couldn’t be more authentic. Cate scavenged nautical and maritime salvage lots to outfit his bar with as many original items he could get his hands on. The fish floats are actually fish floats. The fish nets are real fish nets. He’s also acquired trinkets that date back to World War II. Also very real are his cocktails. He’s even gone so far as to name one for USS Pampanito, a submarine folks can actually visit at the San Francisco Maritime Museum. 650 Gough St., San Francisco, (415) 869-1900, www.smugglerscovesf.com

What’s the average number of ingredients in each of the drinks here? Nine, maybe eight.

You have a long and well-known history in the Bay Area cocktail scene. How’d you first get started? I was a home enthusiast for many years and then changed careers in 2005? 2004? Somewhere around there. Then started bartending in Trader Vic’s and then opened my first bar in 2006.

Which bar was that? Forbidden Island in Alameda.

What were you doing before bartending? I was doing transportation logistics for ocean cargo export. I was the vice president of a shipping company.

So the Seven Seas have always been on your mind? Yes, maritime history has always been something I’ve done.

Where are you from? I grew up in Marin. The mean streets of West Marin. Wassup!

Is that where you nurtured your tiki knowledge? No, no. There was no tiki there. The only tiki bar that was actually probably good closed many years ago [and] was called Tiburon Tommy’s. I started getting into tiki in the late ’90s — just collecting stuff at home and having tropical drink parties and what not. That’s how it began.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have of tiki drinks? That they’re syrupy; that they’re artificial-tasting; that they’re day-glow pink ... things like that. They are really well-­balanced, complex, interesting drinks with unusual spices and really vibrant citrus; all kinds of good stuff going on.

Because the tiki bar had its heyday, the ’30s through the ’60s, did something get lost along the way? Oh, absolutely. It was a case of it getting increasingly hard to find bartenders willing to make such complicated, labor-intensive, accurately measured cocktails. And at the same time, there was a rise in artificial mixes, instant sour mix, powdered things ... all these things that existed to make the bartender’s life easier, but took the quality of the drink down. And the whole fad sort of started to fall out of favor in the late ’60s.

If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? Don the Beachcomber. [Considered to be the father of tiki cocktails.]

What would you serve him? A zombie and say, “How did I do? Did I get it right?”

Since this is Smuggler’s Cove, have you ever smuggled anything into the U.S.? I can’t say.

Pampanito

  • 1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 oz. molasses blended with sugar
  • ¼ oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
  • 1½ oz. Ron Pampero rum
  • Dash Angostura bitters

Shake ingredients together with ice. Strain over tall glass filled with ice. Top with 2½ ounces of seltzer. Garnish with two lemon spirals and a sprig of mint.

About The Author

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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