What You Need To Know About Don The Beachcomber, The Original Tiki Bar

When you imagine a tiki bar, you probably envision tropical flavors, bottles of rum lining the shelves, palm trees, bamboo, and unique glassware crafted into ceramic art. Most importantly, the name "Don the Beachcomber" echoes in your thoughts — this is, after all, the very birthplace of the tiki bar concept.

Don the Beachcomber is America's original tiki bar. It's a historic Hollywood institution that went on to become not only the country's first thematic restaurant chain, but also one of the most popular restaurants in the U.S. Additionally, it's the place where America's interest in tiki culture was born, the opening of its doors giving way to the Polynesian-inspired movement that's been making waves across the country ever since.

So how did this tiki empire come to be, and is it still standing today? To find out everything you need to know about this legendary establishment, let's go back to Hollywood in 1934, to 1722 N. McCadden Place.

The birth of America's first tiki bar

In the early 1930s, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt — who would later call himself Donn Beach — met Cora Irene "Sunny" Sund. He was a bartender at the Hollywood Hotel; she was a waitress at the Tick Tock Tearoom. After the two married, Sund borrowed money to open Don's Beachcomber Café, putting Gantt's impressive mixology talent in the spotlight.

Donn's novel exotic cocktails quickly became a huge hit at the tropical-themed 25-seat bar. A few years later in 1937, they moved across the street to expand the place into a restaurant, where they served a unique Chinese-inspired menu with a South Seas flair. Donn Beach thrived making his signature rum-based drinks while Sund ran and grew the business, and the Don the Beachcomber brand was built.

Filled from room to room with Polynesian paraphernalia and nautical decor from Gantt's travels, Don the Beachcomber became a sort of hidden hideaway. It was a much-needed tropical oasis in the midst of the Great Depression that only became more and more popular as the economy recovered in a post-war America. Don the Beachcomber eventually grew to 16 locations across the country, sparking the national tiki movement that's still booming today.

Don the Beachcomber's legacy

So where is Don the Beachcomber now? Gantt and Sund ended up divorcing in 1940, after which she took control of the company and Donn Beach eventually moved to Hawaii to open up two more tiki locations at the Royal Kona and Royal Lahaina.

Don the Beachcomber is the birthplace of the exotic rum cocktail that captured not just sweetness but spice. Donn Beach is recognized for his innovation in mixology, creating drinks the likes of which America had never seen. Among these were classic island cocktails that are now a mainstay in tiki bars across the country, such as the Mai Tai, the Navy Grog, and the Zombie. And outside of its innovative cocktails, the restaurant is perhaps one of the first to explore a new, exotic type of cuisine that introduced foods like pupu platters, rumaki, lychee, and bamboo shoots to Hollywood.

Since its heyday, the rights to the Don the Beachcomber name have been purchased and passed around by others, and more locations have come and gone. However, while the first tiki bar closed in 1985 and there are no longer any original Don the Beachcomber establishments standing today, the beloved brand's legacy lives on in the ever-unique and ever-fascinating tiki culture that we know today in America.