Like Hollywood’s best movie soundtracks, a good playlist can make or break a bar’s atmosphere. And while this crosses bar genres, it rings especially true within the realm of tiki. “Tiki is a multidisciplinary genre. It’s not just about the cocktails, it’s about creating an atmosphere,” says Smuggler’s Cove owner Martin Cate. “All of the elements need to come together seamlessly, and when something is missing or discordant, it takes you out of the experience.”
The tiki movement, in fact, has a distinct musical history, which is what Cate explored when designing a soundtrack for Smuggler’s Cove. “There was already a wave of music called exotica that rose towards the end of the 1940s and through the ’50s, exemplified by artists like Martin Denny, Robert Drasnin, and Les Baxter,” he says. “It was a unique genre of music that was born as a hybrid of jazz and Indonesian gamelan with unusual percussion, bird sounds, things like that. One of the first things we did was decide that we would have an exotica soundtrack. It sounds like it’s part of the experience when you walk into this space and the music sounds mysterious.”
Because Smuggler’s Cove is inspired by the global history of rum, the music also extends beyond exotica to include sounds from rum-drinking cultures. Cate’s references influences include (but aren’t limited to) Hawaiian ukelele music from the 1920s and ’30s, traditional Cuban and Brazilian music, bossa nova, samba, Jamaican r&b and soul from the 1960s, a little funk, motown, surf and modern exotica. There’s also “a little bit of novelty” sprinkled in, he says. “An album that’s the single most asked-about (that speaks more to our tech clientele than anything else) is called Cocktails in the Cantina, and it’s lounge versions of the Star Wars soundtrack,” he laughs. “Everybody stops in their tracks when it comes on, like ‘Is that the Imperial March as a lounge song?’ ”
On shuffle from an old iPod, the soundtrack mixes styles that seamlessly create a mood that’s “evocative, mysterious and romantic,” Cate says. “It’s soft, mid- to down-tempo and, of course, in most cases it’s all quite old. There’s nothing that’s been recorded in the last 50 years, because we’re re-creating an atmosphere that was popular half a century or more ago. A big point of a great tiki bar is to take a vacation and have a relaxing experience where it’s always Waikiki at dusk inside. You loosen the tie, the stress falls off your shoulders, you have a big tropical drink and you’re relaxing,” he says. “It’s about not thinking about what’s happening today. If we play a top 40 song, that’s what’s happening now, and now is full of stress. Now is my cell phone and CNN, and these are things I don’t want you to think about in my bar.”
Here, Cate shares part of the bar’s master playlist on Spotify—follow along to get lost in the tropical soundscape.
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