When Tacoma Cabana opened in downtown Tacoma in 2012, I called the creation from Robyn Murphy and Jason Alexander “something we didn’t know we needed.”
They’ve done it again.
Their companion bar in downtown Tacoma is yet another something we didn’t know we needed, a nautical-themed cocktail den.
From the decor that looks torn out of a movie set to the robustly flavored rum drinks, Devil’s Reef is a one-of-a-kind boozy enclave that beckons hipsters, grandmas, business folks and suburbanites out for a date night.
The lounge officially opened Jan. 24 in Opera Alley, directly across from Over The Moon Cafe.
Murphy and Alexander, partners in business and life, opened their Tacoma Cabana tiki lounge as an homage to all things Polynesian. That light-and-breezy lounge looks like a bubbly underwater tiki refuge with a lilting soundtrack to match.
That same soundtrack was on at Devil’s Reef, but the mood felt darker, deeper, edgier.
Walking into the lounge evokes a sense-of-place like no other themed lounge in the area, including Tacoma Cabana.
“It’s very flotsam and jetsam that me and Robyn have been saving for years,” said Alexander before the opening. “Old ropes, tackle and all kinds of stuff you might find washed up on shore after a shipwreck. It’s definitely more intense than the Cabana.
“The Cabana’s more a whimsical get-away to Hawaii. Devil’s Reef is more dark and nautical, with more mystery.”
Here’s a first look at the newly opened lounge. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service during a restaurant’s first month.
The scene: The mood is set with ultra low lighting only slightly interrupted by swirls of blue-and-green decorative lights flickering across the ceiling. When your eyes adjust, peer into the corners to find hanging, glass fishing floats, a salvaged ship’s wheel, a shrunken head, moody-looking tiki masks that appear as if they’re throwing shade and a bar fashioned to resemble a dock.
My advice: Look up. There’s something fetching from every angle, including the ceiling.
Wait, where is it? No sign marks the door, so head into Opera Alley. The cocktail lounge’s door, marked 706, is directly across the alley from Over The Moon Cafe and next to Matty Photography. Enter into a courtyard to the front door.
Seating: A series of booths anchor the space opposite the long bar. The big one at the entrance is equipped for a large party or two smaller groups. The others are private and cozy with room for four-to-six people each. Toward the back, before the hallway to a well-lit lounge area and restrooms, find more tables. The super long bar gives diners a birds-eye view of one of the city’s best barkeeps at work.
The cocktail menu: “They’re obviously inspired from the exotic and tiki drinks, but a little darker,” said Alexander. “Your tropical drinks are fruity, bright and fun, and these are a little dark and sinister. You take a sip and wonder, ‘What’s going on here?’”
Concentrated swirls of maple syrup, hints of molasses, and deep-and-aromatic pockets of cinnamon perfumed the drinks.
Top-shelf rum makes Alexander the envy of every rum-loving barkeep in the city. Be sure to ask about the single cask Barbados XO Plantation, aged in bourbon, cognac and Swedish whiskey barrels. Don’t go there expecting anything other than high-end rum cocktails. This is not an all-purpose cocktail lounge.
The opening menu, which will change, listed 16 cocktails ($12 to $14), streamlined and succinct in comparison to the multi-page cocktail list and rum book at Tacoma Cabana. Every cocktail listed sported rum or a mixture of rums, with drink descriptions purposely vague.
Want to know what’s in it? Ask Alexander, but he probably won’t tell you. It’s part of his charm. I’ve tried in phone interviews for years to pry his recipes out of him. He’s a vault.
Nibbles menu: Murphy calls her food menu “tropical fusion,” or fun, beach food you’d find in far-flung ports. It’s all approachable bar food ranging from nachos ($10) to a quesadilla ($10) to food with Asian touches, such as edamame hummus ($12) and fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce ($8). More substantial fare includes a Portuguese sausage and Spam rice bowl ($12) or a jerk chicken bowl ($12).
Drink the: Captain Obed’s Grog, garnished with a pretty purple flower and a sprig of mint in a short rocks glass, with a tasty maple-ish kick that closed with a tart, fruity finish ($12). The Kingsport Festival arrived in a tall glass with a pretty yellow color, a splash of passionfruit and a boozy rum face slap ($12).
The Angler’s Fang in a Hurricane glass was syrupy, fruity and drinkable proof that grenadine and rum are best friends ($13).
The Seagrave, in another rocks glass, was heavy on cinnamon and rum with a less sweet finish than the other drinks ($12). The signature Devil’s Reef arrived frothy from a vigorous shake with a flavorful brush of cinnamon and broad strokes of citrus and rum ($12).
Eat the: Edamame hummus platter, a generous portion of the tasty bean dip paired with well-seasoned cucumber and tomato slices, plus pita ($12). The pork tenderloin is Murphy’s twist on the barbecue pork appetizer with mustard-ketchup-sesame seeds at a Chinese restaurant, swapping pork tenderloin for char siu ($10).
Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, @tntdiner
Where: 706 Opera Alley, Tacoma. 21 and older only. Opens at 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays
Tacoma Cabana: 728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; tacomacabana.com. Open 5 p.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturday.