Most of you know that I spend every Tuesday evening at Smuggler’s Cove, a truly excellent rum-focused, tiki-flavored bar here in San Francisco, owned by my dear and old friend Martin Cate. This tradition of mine predates the existence of Smuggler’s Cove. Before the Cove opened, I was spending every Wednesday at Forbidden Island in Alameda. Before that, it was every Monday at Trader Vic’s in San Francisco. Before that, it was Wednesdays at Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles. It all started waaaaaaay back in 2003, when I was spending every Tuesday night at Fu Kun Wu in Seattle.
It’s been an anchor in my week that I can no longer imagine doing without. While the ostensible focus is on cocktails, that’s never really been the point. It’s about knowing that at least once a week, I have something social happening, a chance to see friendly faces, tell tales about the week that’s passed, and oftentimes make new friends. It’s handy that no one needs to make special arrangements if they want to catch up with me, they just have to find a free Tuesday and show up. Before I had this, odds were good that these thin, wimpy days of the week would go to waste, maybe watching television, or playing solitaire. I’ve had a near-decade of non-wasted Tuesdays and Wednesdays, days when beautiful human connections were made, and I feel really good about that.
So, how does a woman whose social life is anchored by cocktails go about being secretly pregnant? I was going to need help. As soon as I peed on a stick and got a double line, I told Rich, then I told my Mom, and then I told my Bartender: Steven Liles.
The menu at Smuggler’s Cove is about 85 drinks deep. Tiki drinks have lots of interesting mixers: citrus and other fruit juices, spiced syrups, the works. I’ve long argued that tiki bars are the best place to go if you don’t drink, as the non-alcoholic drinks are fantastic. However! Week after week of juice-heavy custom drinks were going to raise eyebrows. At Smuggler’s Cove, people pay attention to what you’re drinking, because the menu itself is such a conversation piece.
Steven has been a godsend. He’s been able to make secretly virgin versions of a surprising array of the drinks on the menu. He tweaked the color using cinnamon syrup to bring in the brown color rum would have added. Even drinks served on the stem with a heavy amount of base spirit, he managed to re-concoct for me (A virgin El Draque! That’s just advanced.). Every drink has been delicious, and even week after week after week of virgin drinks, I’m not at all tired of them. He was mindful of any moves that could give our secret away, using particularly delicate slight of hand to minimize potential exposure of my bill, in case anyone noticed the suspiciously low cost of my drinks. He regaled my friends with tales of what a “pro drinker” I am, spacing out all these “heavy alcohol” drinks with the occasional non-alcoholic.
In short: he got really into it.
At times the show was too convincing. One night as I was leaving after having three rounds of drinks with some friends, they offered to walk me to BART… before I could think, I blurted out, “oh, no, I’m driving tonight!” They gave me well-earned, skeptical squints, and I muttered something about how one of the drinks was non-alcoholic, and the others were really pretty low alcohol, and I’d managed to eat a big meal before coming out…
So! I’ve been dying to tell you: Steven Liles is EVEN MORE AMAZING than you knew. (And just think what he’s capable of doing WITH alcohol!)
Nota bene: I will keep going to Smuggler’s Cove on Tuesday nights until it becomes physically impossible… which is looming ever closer. If you’ve been meaning to come out some Tuesday, make it some time in the next few months! I always announce earlier in the day on Twitter & Facebook that I’ll be there (I only miss maybe 5 weeks out of a typical year), if you want to be extra sure you’ll see me. I typically get there around 8pm, and stick around ’til 10 or so.