Zombies Come Back from the Grave!

Bartenders shake up some serious tiki drinks

By Roxanne Webber

If you order a mai tai at Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, you will not find a paper umbrella in it. It will not be pink or blended, and it will taste mostly like aged rum. But the drink will probably be made by a fellow in a tropical-print shirt, who may be goading patrons into

walking around like zombies. There will be blowfish lights overhead, and you will get a definite Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-ride feeling. Owner Martin Cate’s cocktails are delicious and easy to drink, and the biggest emphasis seems to be on two things: quality and fun.

While the new wave of young “startenders” who honed their skills making cocktails in the modern speakeasies aren’t going to trade in their vintage vests and bow ties for Hawaiian shirts, they are taking notice of Cate’s success, and his skill working with rum: Smuggler’s Cove has been packed from the start. Neo-tropical drinks are a natural progression for creative bartenders, says Richard Boccato, of Dutch Kills in New York and formerly of NYC’s Milk and Honey. “We need to go forward and think about different things, and innovate, and create, and not stay within the box that a lot of us have built around ourselves,” he says.

The world of Scorpion Bowls seems an unlikely place for craft bartenders to be digging around for inspiration. But tiki cocktails are a logical extension of how these bartenders already approach making drinks. Before the genre was turned into a train wreck where anything put in a blender and served in a hurricane glass with a paper bird on it was a go, tiki drinks were complex and challenging, made with special spice-infused syrups, fine aged rum, and fresh-squeezed juices—the same elements we now expect in any artisanal cocktail.

In early spring, Boccato and Giuseppe Gonzalez (also at Dutch Kills and formerly of the Flatiron Lounge) will open Painkiller in Manhattan. “It’s not going to be the classic Trader Vic’s or Don the Beachcomber homage theme,” says Boccato. “If you were standing in a subway station circa 1970s/’80s, looking at the graffiti go by, just imagine there is a thatched roof above you and a tiki drink in your hand.”

Boccato says they are even going to be working with the blender, an appliance that serious bartenders have renounced. Some of the drinks they have tweaked so far include the namesake Painkiller, a mix of homemade cream of coconut, Pusser’s Rum, fresh pineapple juice, and muddled oranges, garnished with grated nutmeg; and the Mary Pickford, which they’ll be making with fresh pineapple juice, maraschino liqueur, house-made grenadine, and white rum. The Cradle of Life, a house original, will be made with two types of rum, orgeat, mixed citrus, and bitters and garnished with a flaming lime shell full of green Chartreuse. They are also planning a Scorpion Bowl program, a tropical spin on the punch trend. The NYC twist: The bowls are inspired by ’70s street gangs from the five boroughs and will have names like the Imperial Bachelor, the No-No, the Golden Guinea, and the Jolly Stomper.

“The general misconception over the years about guys like us is that we are very uptight. With this project, we do intend to take our jobs very seriously, but we don’t intend to take ourselves very seriously,” says Boccato.


Smuggler’s Cove photographs by Chris Rochelle

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