A BRIEF HISTORY
“Donn Beach” was born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt in Texas in 1907. By his 18th birthday, his parents gave him two options. Take the money they saved for him and go to college or find his own way. Naturally at the behest of his grandfather, he chose his own way. Donn spent many years traveling in the South Pacific and the Caribbean with his brother and collected numerous nautical treasures in his wake. During the Prohibition years, he travelled with his brother and worked as a 'businessman' (bootlegger) until it was lifted.
After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Donn opened Don the Beachcomber, a small café and bar in the corner of a small hotel bar at 1722 N. McCadden Place in California where he concocted powerful rum drinks for his customers. He filled his bar with matching barstools, fishing nets draped on the walls, large glass fishing weights in every shade of blue and green imaginable, and the now-ubiquitous cocktail umbrellas adorning his drinks. All these artifacts wer collected along his travels and once he amassed enough, he unveiled his secret grotto. Donn Beach became the founding father of the Polynesian “tiki” bar. Donn could also rightly claim that he was the first cross-marketing restaurateur, with a rum shop, gift store and Chinese grocery just inside his bar’s front door.
A shrewd businessman, Donn installed a sprinkler system on top of the bar’s tin roof so customers would think it was raining and stay for another drink. The food Donn served paired perfectly with the drinks he developed. His dishes were mainly hyped-up Chinese fare, with pineapple and coconut flavors and island flair in the presentation.
Donn was, above all, a creative bartender. His cocktails were mostly rum-based; rum was the drink of the islands, and it was very accessible. Many say that Donn created the Mai Tai in 1934 although Trader Vic is equally credited with the creation as his had a dark rum float. All in all, Donn lived the life of a playboy. He lived, laughed and loved until his final days.
Tiki culture was held in high regard until the 1970's when it became considered dated and boring by the younger generation (protesting Vietnam) and was reinvigorated by the same generation in the late 80's. Unfortunately the cocktail recipes were lost by that time and everything was made from memory, so syrupy, awful concoctions that passed for "tiki" drinks. Thanks to a handful of die hard supporters of tiki, including but not limited to Jeff "Beach Bum" Berry, THE best tiki cocktail historian who paved the way for today's movement in the early 2000's, the culture gained momentum. Because of the ever developing palate of the public, rum is becoming more and more recognized again as a complex and unique spirit. Beach Bum's books showcased a lot of valuable information thought to be lost in history. He spent countless hours interviewing bartenders who worked for Donn as well as their descendants and was able to acquire their recipe books. Even so, he'd still have to decipher the recipes as Donn didn't make it easy. He labeled things like "Donn's Spices #2 or Donn's Spices #4" so that rival bartenders couldn't replicate his work. Bum's hard work has paid off and we are here today enjoying the same (or close to) drinks of that age.
Because of Bum's work bartenders now have the opportunity to create new flavor profiles never thought of before. We hope you enjoy the journey as much as we do and you find that piece of paradise we're all striving for.