Recently in our article about the wave of wonderful northwest tiki drinks, we mentioned the celebrated Tacoma Cabana. Opened in 2012 by partners (in life and work) Robyn Murphy and Jason Alexander – also lead bartender and winner of the 2014 Iron Tikitender championship – Tacoma Cabana delivers classic tiki drinks and style. A few weeks ago, the pair opened their second rum-fueled downtown Tacoma spot, Devil’s Reef (706 Court C, Tacoma).
While the sibling bars share a rum obsession, Devil’s Reef is not parroting Tacoma Cabana – the differences were obvious even in the small anteroom, which you can tuck in to while waiting to enter the bar (5 p.m. to 12 a.m., Wednesday – Saturday). In that anteroom, a dark red glass chandelier adds an enigmatic aura, and when you walk in Devil’s Reef, you’re transported into dimly-lit, mysterious space that wouldn’t be amiss on Blackbeard’s ship, if they were sailing to an island grotto where they’re going to retire after many years looting the high seas.
The drinks carry a little mystery, too, along with a delicious variety of rums and tropical juices. Take Captain Chad’s Grog, which contains eldritch spices, along with maple syrup, fresh citrus, and dark, aged rum, all mingling currents of spice, tang, and heft, with a hint of sweet and a whiff of fresh mint from the garnish on top.
While you won’t find note-by-note canonical tiki classics, you’ll find modern interpretations that fit right in, like the Voodoo Summoning (with a shrunken head in a lantern behind the bar, seeing the undead arrive wouldn’t feel completely out of place), with coconut, cinnamon, passionfruit, and multiple rums. It’s brightly flavorful, light, and with a swell collection of island favorites. The menu of Libations and Lore included 16 liquid choices during my last visit, all featuring enough rum to please any pirate.
They fit wonderfully within the bar’s dark-night-of-the-captain’s-soul vibe, which permeates every corner, from the hanging riggings, nets, and ship’s weights, to the rippling deep blue lights on the ceiling and array of candle-esque low light fixture of various kinds, to wooden long boats on the walls. There’s also Easter island cut-outs, thick wooden plank ceilings, tons of talismanic tiki glasses and skulls, and cannons jutting out above one seating area (the spot behind the cannon-wall is being built into a private room, too for 20 people), and more.
There are multiple seating areas, including one with tall and short wooden tables and chairs, a long bar with bamboo side (and dock posts with lanterns at various spots), and booth areas walled and set apart like ship’s cabins. The whole build-out is pretty amazing, especially when considering it was done by Alexander himself, who was a carpenter before he started shaking tiki drinks in his trademark fez.
To go with those strong drinks, check out the From the Galley menu, which has an around-the-world set-up: fresh spring rolls, nachos, a few rice bowls and more. I suggest the huge helping of tater tots with black lava salt and Sriracha ketchup. They have a nice peppery zing, and provide enough ballast to balance the rum – the last thing you want is to feel you’ve lost your sea legs.
I remain a big fan of Tacoma Cabana’s tiki-tastic-ness, but have to admit – the beautifully-murky esoteric nature of Devil’s Reef sings to my wannabe pirate soul. If you’re not living in Tacoma, it’s well worth traveling to visit. Just be sure someone in the party sticks to soda, so you don’t run adrift on the way home.