Tacoma Cabana, a tiki lounge and restaurant, will open in downtown Tacoma this month. Restaurateurs Robyn Murphy and Jason Alexander are familiar faces downtown for their Villa Caffe and Imbibery, which they operated at the base of the Villaggio Apartments from January 2010 until last month.
They’ll open Tacoma Cabana in the next two weeks at 728 Pacific Ave., which previously was home to Surreal Ultra Lounge and On The Rocks before that.
Their previous restaurant Villa was a diminutive cafe that seated 24 and came with a tiny kitchen. Tacoma Cabana is triple the space and outfitted with a more substantially sized kitchen, Murphy said. The dining area has capacity for 74, but Murphy and Alexander plan to keep seating at 60. They’ve removed the glitzy club interior of the previous tenant and replaced it with Polynesian decor, the room is decorated with the tongue-in-cheek tropical tackiness that is a hallmark of tiki culture. They outfitted the bar to look like a hut, a surfboard hangs in the dining room.
Just as with Villa, Murphy will manage the kitchen and Alexander will be behind the bar. The duo plan to operate the restaurant and lounge Tuesdays through Saturdays, opening at 4 p.m. and serving late into the evening. Diners younger than 21 will be allowed until 10 p.m.
Alexander described a craft cocktail menu, meaning much of what he’s creating is from scratch. The drinks sound like something that approaches the flavor-centric cocktails of Tacoma’s 1022 South – if that bar was picked up and dropped off at a Hawaiian beach. Like 1022 South, much of Alexander’s menu relies on layering flavors using hand-made syrups, infusions and unusual liqueurs.
Alexander described classic tiki cocktails made with handmade falernum, a spice infused ginger-lime syrup, and orgeat, a sweet almond-based syrup. He expects his cocktail menu to span two pages with around 35 hand-crafted specialty cocktails that includes mai tais, classic daiquiris, a Zombie and a tropical sangria.
He’s created three styles of mai tais. Two of the three will nod to recipes from Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, self-proclaimed creators of the classic tiki rum drink. He also used Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge as inspiration. To prep for Tacoma Cabana’s opening, Alexander competed in a national mai tai competition in Hawaii last month. He didn’t win, but he said the trip was essential for cocktail sleuthing. His parents have a condo in Hawaii, which served as home base for tiki research expeditions.
In the kitchen, Murphy plans what she jokingly calls a “vacation fusion” menu. She draws on Caribbean, Polynesian, Hawaiian, Thai, Filipino and southern influences. If you can eat it on a beach, she’ll consider it for the menu. She plans to keep prices in the $10-$15 range.
The menu will have Murphy’s version of a Hawaiian loco moco plate. The classic is a combination of rice, eggs and a meat patty slathered with gravy. She’ll make a burger with housemade jalapeno-pineapple salsa and chicken made with a housemade island barbecue sauce. She’ll also offer bacon-wrapped pineapple – her twist on rumaki. She’ll have sweet-sour meatballs and other pupus – as small appetizers are called in Hawaii.
Can you operate a Polynesian restaurant without Spam on the menu? No, you cannot.
Murphy said her nod to Spam will show up in a frittata with pineapple.
Tacoma Cabana, a Craft Tiki Bar
Where: 728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Opening: Around Sept. 15
Hours: Tentatively set for 4 p.m.-late night, Tuesdays-Saturdays.
Contact: tacomacabana.com or Facebook
Age restriction? Under-21 diners will be allowed until 10 p.m.
Update: The operating days have been corrected in this blog post – Tacoma Cabana will be open Tuesdays-Saturdays. The post also has been updated to include information on the age of diners.