Dane Barca makes cocktails with a twist of the 19th century

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerShiver me timbers: Smuggler’s Cover bartender Dane Barca used his interests in cocktails and the 19th century to conjure up the tasty Kingston Flip.

In the four years since this Tiki-est of all Tiki bars opened, it has deservedly made several lists of the best bars and cocktails. Two hundred bottles of rum are on display in this adult version of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. From the outside, one could easily pass by without even knowing a three-level bar existed behind the blacked-out door, which enhances the hidden-cove vibe. Once inside, it’s like an exploded pirate ship seen through the eyes of someone on an acid trip. There’s a lagoon on the lower level, real puffer fish, flaming volcano drinks, bartenders in Hawaiian shirts and a treasure trove of vintage nautical memorabilia that give the place an island feel. Longtime bartender Dane Barca — who has a doctorate in 19th-century English literature and is a law student at UC Hastings College of the Law — keeps his cool while mixing complicated Polynesian drinks from the vast cocktail list.  650 Gough St. • (415) 869-1900 • www.smugglerscovesf.com

What makes the Kingston Flip distinctive?

I majored in 19th-century English literature, and mixing beer, spirits and egg is a very 19th-century combination. By the 1830s, ice was available year-round, but it was considered a luxury so only the rich could afford iced drinks. Before that, most drinks were served room temperature or hot. They used to put a hot poker into drinks to decrease possible health hazards because eggs and beer weren’t always safe to consume at the time.

What else have you done?

I started bartending in The British Bankers Club in Menlo Park. I also worked as a lobsterman and garbageman in Maine. And I sang in punk-rock bands. I taught English literature at UC Riverside.

What bars do you like?

Beretta is a great bar. 15 Romolo, Bar Agricole. Mister Lew’s Win Win Bar and Grand Sazerac Emporium, which has reopened as Tradition.

What do you drink?

I’m a beer-and-shot guy, but I love to play. I do love mixed drinks, so when I’m at a bar that has a good cocktail program I try their drinks.

What are the most popular drinks here?

The strongest ones: Puka Punch and the Painkiller.

What do you like about bartending?

When it’s a good night you meet people at their happiest, doing things they like to do.

What famous people have you served?

Neil Young rented a bar where I worked for a funeral. He’s a really nice guy. Graham Nash, Stephen Stills. A lot of 49ers.
What’s the biggest tip you’ve received?

An organized-crime figure used to come into a bar where I worked, get really drunk and we’d have to throw him out. So whenever he came back he gave me a $100 bill to smooth things over. He also gave me $100 with every round of drinks.
What are some memorable experiences you’ve had?

A guy was here on a first date. After a few rounds, she went into the bathroom and he called me over. He asked, “Can you tell me if that’s a woman or not?” I told him, “I didn’t see an Adam’s apple so I think you’re OK.” Then, a firefighter who wore dentures used to nod off at the bar and his teeth would move around in his mouth. It was unnerving the first time you saw it. Another time, a couple pulled the sink off the wall while screwing in the bathroom. I don’t think it’s that uncommon in bars. And a guy fell asleep in the waterfall pool in the corner.

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