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Opened in 1934
Closed in the mid 1980s
Defunct tiki not included,
distances are as the crow flies.
ad, 71, 77, 168
menu, 68, 70-73, 164
picture, 70, 76-77, 79
text, 69-70, 73-74, 77, 79, 82, 149, 151, 160, 162, 164-166, 168, 244
Aug 26, 2005
Postcard from Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood
date unknown, from the collection of Dustycajun
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This is the location that started it all. (Well, actually it started across the street at 1722 McCadden in 1934, and moved to this spot in 1937.) Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, later and more widely known as Donn Beach, created what we think of today as a "tiki" or "Polynesian" restaurant. Bamboo-lined tropical themed night clubs had been fashionable for some time, but this was where it became more immersive. Donn's greatest innovation was surely the drinks. His travels throughout the world (and especially the Caribbean) gave him deep knowledge about rum, which in this post-prohibition era had become inexpensive. His blends of rums with fruit juice and spice flavors created exotic drinks that appealed to the masses. Backed up with Cantonese cuisine and a richly decorated environment complete with tikis, it was a hit.
Many of the most beloved tiki drinks were born here, including the Zombie, Navy Grog, Demerara Dry Float, 151 Swizzle, Shark's Tooth, Cobra's Fang, Dr. Funk. The original bartenders knew the recipes (including Ray Buhen, who served them at his own Tiki-Ti—the recipes have been passed down to Buhen's son and grandsons and you can taste history there yourself). Soon Donn learned to keep the recipes secret, even from his own staff, by using a system of codes and pre-mixed syrups. It didn't stop the competition from attempting to poach his staff or attempt his drinks, with mixed success.
Beyond the drinks, the entire themed-restaurant concept that Don the Beachcomber created was copied widely; perhaps first and most notably, it inspired Victor Bergeron to transform his Hinky Dinks into the first Trader Vic's.
Donn was the creative genius, but the business brains of the operation belonged to his wife, Cora Irene "Sunny" Sund. When they divorced in 1940, she retained the rights to the Don the Beachcomber name and concept in the United States. She grew Don the Beachcomber into a successful chain of restaurants that flourished for decades.
Donn took his work to Waikiki (beyond the range of the deal with Sund, as Hawai'i was not yet a state) where he opened his own Don the Beachcomber restaurant, and became a major fixture in the booming Hawai'i tourist scene. He owned the Waikiki Don the Beachcomber until his death in 1987.
Thanks to many years of hard work (harder work than he would lead you to believe), drinks historian and author Jeff "Beachbum" Berry has been able to successfully decode and document many of the original Don the Beachcomber liquid masterpieces. His work has ensured that quality tropical drinks are back and here to stay, and are now being served all around the world.