“I wanted to help showcase how diverse and flexible rum is. There is a misconception about rum that it is only a mixer and that it doesn’t have a lot of depth of character. But I think Smuggler’s Cove disproves that theory.”
Martin Cate has a passion for rum and for tiki bars. He loves the vintage, exotic cocktails that come from these establishments, many dating back to the 16th and 17th century. With that in mind, he opened Smuggler’s Cove in late 2009, partly a tribute to his love of tiki and rum and partly as a fun, but educational environment and venture.
“I didn’t want to conform the bar to just tiki. I wanted to make it a fun and tropical atmosphere that truly celebrates rum,” Cate said.
It all starts with the amazing collection of rum that Cate has amassed. “I think many people don’t really realize how many amazing sipping rums there are out there. Again, there is this misconception about rum that it is just used in mixed drinks. But that’s wrong. Rum can be sipped just like many other wonderful spirits.”
Cate formulated a cocktail menu of 75-80 rum-based drinks, largely focused on the classics, guiding patrons through a historical perspective of the spirit. It also helps to have one of San Francisco’s leading bartenders behind the bar in Marcovaldo Dionysos.
Dionysos estimates that he’s worked in 35-40 bars, including starting the bar program at Absinthe and Clock Bar in San Francisco. “But I was looking for a new challenge. Every few years, I want to try something different. And I had never done tiki,” Dionysos said. “I hadn’t had a lot of experience with rum, but I learned about its amazing diversity pretty quickly.”
Dionysos said that rum cocktails, especially those of the tiki variety, are unique because of the large number of ingredients involved in each drink. “There are sometimes 10-11 things that go into one drink. For a small bar, we do a ton of volume so we really have to stay on top of things behind the bar.”
Heading into Smuggler’s Cove for the first time, I would imagine customers would be a bit taken aback. It’s part pirate ship, part tiki bar, full of mystery and fun with an incredible cocktail list. “I think when people go out to bars, they have a sense of what they are in the mood for,” said Cate. “Bars provide a little bit of everything for everyone. That’s the great thing about San Francisco is that there is so much out there to try.”
Cate said Smuggler’s Cove also provides many people a chance to break out of their comfort zone. “When people come in and are faced with spirits that are unfamiliar to them, it can be a bit intimidating,” he said. “ So we try to explain and highlight the ingredients that are going into each drink and also tell them a little about the different rums we might be using and why there is a right rum for the right drink.”
Along with tiki cocktails and classic rum-based drinks, one of the coolest aspects of Smuggler’s Cove is the Rumbustion Society. There are three levels which are achieved upon tasting a certain number of different rums available. When customers reach the Mater of the Cove level (tasting 300 different rums!!), they earn the privilege of joining Cate on a private distillery trip.
Cate and Dionysos both agreed on where the future of San Francisco bars are heading. They both said that more often than not, single spirit bars will be the new wave, whether it’s bourbon, scotch, whisky or another rum bar. But there truly is and always will be only one Smuggler’s Cove, a truly amazing and unique cocktail experience in San Francisco.
Smuggler’s Cove is located at 650 Gough Street and open daily from 5 pm – 2 am.