Bartender's Choice: What to Order at Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco

[Photographs: Wes Rowe]

When you enter Smuggler's Cove on Gough Street in San Francisco, it's as if you're inside a ship, decked out with ropes and fishing buoys, lanterns and ancient bottles of rum. There are gurgling pools of water next to the stairs, and a giant anchor suspended from the ceiling. But when you're done gawking, there's a decision to be made—what to drink? There are 75 different cocktails on the menu, so we reached out to bartender Steven Liles for a little help.

The scene inside.

One section of the Smuggler's Cove menu focuses on rum drinks through the ages, from the beginning of the British Royal Navy through Prohibition and up to the modern era. You can also choose from drinks of the Caribbean, some resurrected from old hotels. There are legendary cocktails from Donn Beach, as well as Smuggler's Cove originals that serve as an homage to that founding father of tiki. There's also a section of cocktails without rum—yes, there are bourbon-based tiki drinks and classic tiki cocktails made with gin.

Bourbon and gin aside, Liles describes Smuggler's as a rum bar, "not just focused on tiki." There are around 400 different rums stocked in the bar, ready for sipping in flights or alone. Though he's hesitant to name favorite producers, Liles suggested that whiskey drinkers might especially appreciate the complexity of El Dorado 15 Year Old from Guyana. "It's a real beauty," he says. He also loves Ron Pampero Aniversario, "a richer, darker rum with kola-nut spice to it," and encourages newbies to try sipping herbaceous rhum agricoles. He said that visitors to the bar should "expect a complete rum experience"...and also a good time.

Steven Liles at Smuggler's Cove.

"We're very serious about our cocktails," says Liles. "But we're not very serious about anything else. We make craft cocktails, sometimes with 10 ingredients, but we can still have fun. There's no pretension here."

We asked Liles to recommend a few of his favorite cocktails from the dauntingly vast menu. Check out his selections in the slideshow above.

Smuggler's Cove

650 Gough Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 (map) 415-869-1900;

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks. She lives in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.