It’s no surprise to long time Cocktail Wonk readers that Tiki is a central pillar of what I do here. While most nights find me laboring over an elaborate concoction at my home bar, I never miss the chance to sit at the bar of a full-blown Tiki master. Last night, after many tortuous months of waiting, I slipped into a seat at the soft opening of Devil’s Reef, in Tacoma, Washington.
The team behind Devil’s Reef is Jason Alexander and his work and life partner Robyn Murphy, who already own and operate Tacoma Cabana, just a few blocks down the hill from Devil’s Reef. In the past five years, Jason (aka @TikiCommando on Instagram) has built a reputation of as one of the most innovative Tiki practitioners, melding a deep understanding of the classics (Don Beach, Trader Vic) and the modern era (Cate, Berry) with highly original recipes and impressive garnishes.
While Tacoma Cabana has a tropical vibe with strong Tiki flourishes, Devil’s Reef dives headlong into Tiki nautical with a touch of H.P.Lovecraft-style horror, in an immersive bar experience that calls to mind greats like Smuggler’s Cove, Pagan Idol, or Hale Pele. The lengthy bar top resembles a pier with wood slats and pilings. Glass fishing floats hang from ropes. The lighting is very low (as customary in Tiki bars), with lots of color-filtered lighting. Exotica music (also a Tiki tradition) sets the mood.
Beside numerous seats at the bar, there are a few high-top tables and several enclosed booths for large groups. While not yet fully decked out and ready, a special private room with a secret entrance hovers over part of the space. The casual eye might not even notice it – keep an eye out for the cannons.
Behind the bar are plenty of shelves to hold Jason’s extensive and exotic rum collection, numbering in the hundreds of bottles. Much of the rum stock he assembled at Tacoma Cabana will makes its way to Devil’s Reef, which has far more space behind the bar. Also filling up the shelves is Jason’s extensive Tiki mug collection. I hear rumors that custom glassware is coming as well and will be available for sale.
Cocktail-wise, Jason has conjured up an entirely new menu of recipes, distinct from the house classics at Tacoma Cabana, like the Golden Shellback. And for guests looking to make an evening at Devil’s Reef, it has a full kitchen – Robyn’s been hard at work crafting a new menu to keep the Tiki masses well fed.
The new project is clearly a labor of love for Jason and Robyn. The duo have kept the Cabana running while designing and building out the new space with their own four hands.
Devil’s Reef builds on the rock-solid foundation of hospitality and amazing Tiki drinks established at Tacoma Cabana to create a full-blown destination Tiki bar, surely worthy of worldwide recognition and adoration.