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LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

If there were any doubts that the inaugural “next gen” Don the Beachcomber restaurant and tropical bar would not live up to the high standards of its namesake, they were quickly put to rest during last week’s grand opening in Madeira Beach on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast.

Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach looked immaculate before opening to the public at 11 a.m. on Feb. 23 (left). By the evening, nearly every indoor seat was filled. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach looked immaculate before opening to the public at 11 a.m. on Feb. 23 (left). By the evening, nearly every indoor seat was filled. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

In-depth coverage below
* Menus and overview: Cocktails | Food
* Decor, music & more | Tips and guidance
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Doctor Funk
Previous: Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida
BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida (April 2024)

The first location in a planned national rollout of escapist establishments inspired by the founding father of faux Polynesian cocktails opened to the public on Friday, Feb. 23, after three days of private parties for friends, family and VIPs. Owned and operated by Tampa- based 23 Restaurant Services, the vast 298-capacity restaurant was firing on all cylinders from the get-go.

“We are thrilled with our opening weekend, starting with a largely attended VIP party on Thursday evening,” Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, said via email Monday. “We had over 1,200 guests join us Friday through Sunday.”

“We continue to be so excited to be a part of this community and look forward to sharing our amazing vibe and delicious food and drinks with you all,” he said, noting the huge social media reaction and “overwhelmingly positive” reviews.

The vintage booths at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, seen before the grand opening on Feb. 23, were designed by Tiki Diablo with contributions from others in the Tiki community. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The vintage booths at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, seen before the grand opening on Feb. 23, were designed by Tiki Diablo with contributions from others in the Tiki community. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

We attended Thursday’s pre-opening party as well as lunch and dinner seatings during Friday’s service, witnessing a nearly flawless launch by every measurable standard. The well-trained staff of managers, greeters, servers, food-runners, bussers, and bartenders operated like a well-oiled machine. And if there were any culinary or mixological misfires from the kitchen or bar, they were few and far between.

When we arrived late for the first official dinner service, all but one of the 20 tables and booths inside the highly immersive restaurant was full, and all of the 30 or so bar seats were taken. On the patio under a large thatched roof, at least a third of the tables were full despite a steady drizzle. Our Uber driver said he had been taking passengers there all day.

Customers were three deep at the bar for hours during the peak of service, beverage director Marie King told us later. “It was a good night.” And the crowds kept coming. The restaurant was just as packed when we left hours later, around 10 p.m.

The outdoor patio at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach has a different feel during daytime and evening hours. The huge poles were carved on-site by Tiki Diablo and his crew. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Feb. 22-23, 2024)
The outdoor patio at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach has a different feel during daytime and evening hours. The huge poles were carved on-site by Tiki Diablo and his crew. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Feb. 22-23, 2024)

Managing partner Sebastien Amoruso seemed very satisfied while surveying the scene and monitoring first-day operations. “It’s a good day,” he said during dinner service. “I’m happy. For the first day, we’re doing great.”

Amoruso estimated that 500 guests would be seated on opening day, but this might not include many who bellied up to the bar and didn’t register in the computerized point-of-sale system. I counted roughly 112 seats inside and 115 outside, plus lots of room for standing near the bar.

More seats could be added if needed, Amoruso, said. If opening weekend is any indication, that may be necessary. Saturday night was even busier than Friday, reported Donn Beach biographer Tim “Swanky” Glazner, who attended both.

The elaborately themed bar at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach is prepped and ready to go before the grand opening on Feb. 23. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The elaborately themed bar at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach is prepped and ready to go before the grand opening on Feb. 23. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

But the venue never seemed crowded, with plenty of room for guests to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Amoruso cited the expertise and experience of 23 Restaurant Services.

Continue reading “LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success”

Minimalist Tiki

Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida

BREAKING NEWS: Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida

Updated Feb. 28

Nearly 100 years after its namesake founder developed and popularized the Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar concept, the Don the Beachcomber brand is re-launching this week with the first of multiple locations scheduled to roll out in Florida over the next several years.

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Sunakora Zombie
Previous coverage: First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024

The indoor dining areas at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., include booths plus table and bar seating.  (Don the Beachcomber photos)
The indoor dining areas at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., include booths plus table and bar seating. (Don the Beachcomber photos)

The restaurant in Madeira Beach, between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is scheduled to open to the public on Friday, Feb. 23. Private events for friends, family and VIPs were held in the days prior. Partygoers no doubt will hoist a birthday toast Thursday to the Tiki bar pioneer.
* More Don the Beachcomber history

Ernest Raymond Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach and opened the first Don the Beachcomber as a speakeasy during Prohibition in 1932, was born on Feb. 22, 1907, in rural Texas. His colorful life story will be documented in an upcoming book (Searching for Don the Beachcomber) and film The Donn of Tiki).

The new restaurant occupies an indoor-outdoor space at the Cambria Hotel at 15015 Madeira Way. It will be open seven days and nights, operating from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays through Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays.

“We’re fully staffed and ready to go” with more than 100 team members, said Lisa Longest, the director of marketing for Don the Beachcomber and other brands owned by Tampa-based 23 Restaurant Services. Friday’s grand opening will include a ribbon-cutting attended by city dignitaries right before the 11 a.m. opening, she said in a phone conversation Thursday.

A view of the interior and a vintage Chinese tile at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., in January 2024. (Facebook photos)
A view of the interior and a vintage Chinese tile at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., in January 2024. (Facebook photos)

Call (727) 870-8454 or go to DonBeachcomber.com for more information. They are currently not taking reservations, so it’s first-come, first-served.

Originally planned for late 2023, then pushed to early 2024, the restaurant finally cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles and passed its final inspection, clearing the way for the grand opening. “We had to do a full build-out,” Longest said of the large space on the ground floor of the hotel. “It took time to get all the permits.”

This is a far cry from Don the Beachcomber’s tiny original bar in Hollywood. The restaurant has a total capacity of 298 with 92 seats inside and 120 outside.

Preview the food and drinks

The restaurant’s food is inspired by the faux Polynesian flavors pioneered by Don the Beachcomber, but the menu will also feature “elevated dishes that will appeal to all,” Longest said in an email following our phone conversation. Dishes will include a pupu platter featuring hand-made crab rangoon, chicken satay and sticky rib skewers, plus signature wings. “We will also feature tempura cauliflower, a variety of fried rice options, fresh grouper, and an array of gourmet burgers,” she said.

A sneak preview of the food menu at the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla.
A sneak preview of the food menu at the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla.

We got a sneak peek at the food and drink menus, which were designed by 23 Restaurant Services creative director Justin Peterson. The offerings are sure to please every taste – from hardcore Tikiphiles, to adventurous locals, to the hotel guests who simply stumble upon this slice of paradise. In fact, the main menu’s cover is emblazoned with Donn Beach’s mantra: “If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”

Continue reading “Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida”

First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024

EXCLUSIVE: First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in January 2024

Updated February 2024

The much-anticipated re-launch of the iconic Don the Beachcomber brand will kick off in early 2024, when the first of several new restaurants will open in Florida. All indications point to a February grand opening in Madeira Beach on the southwest Gulf Coast.

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success
* Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida (February 2024)

Don the Beachcomber

The indoor-outdoor space on the ground floor of the waterfront Cambria Hotel was originally scheduled to open in November or December. The Don the Beachcomber website currently says “early 2024.”

The space is still under construction, so more delays are possible. However, management started seeking employees several weeks ago, and photos shared on social media show the interior decor nearing the final stages of installation.

A reel posted Dec. 14 on the official pages on Instagram and Facebook provides “a sneak peek into paradise.”

If all goes according to plan, expect a public opening in February with a soft opening for “friends and family” a week prior. An official annoucement on an exact date likely won’t be made until after a certificate of occupancy is issued.

A general rule of thumb in the restaurant business is to begin hiring at least six weeks before a grand opening. The first “now hiring” post appeared Dec. 1 on the Don the Beachcomber Instagram page.

The “GOATS wanted” ad encourages “career seekers” and “badass dreamers” to apply via the website of parent company 23 Restaurant Services. Among the jobs posted on the website are bartender, cook, dishwasher, expeditor, host/hostess, manager, managing partner, server, and service assistant.

Detail photos of the interior decor at the Don the Beachcomber location in Madeira Beach, Fla., posted Nov. 13 on the official Facebook page.
Detail photos of the interior decor at the Don the Beachcomber location in Madeira Beach, Fla., posted Nov. 13 on the official Facebook page.

Jump to more below
YouTube preview: Marie King talks cocktails, upcoming locations
Sneak peek: Renderings, mission statement revealed at Tiki Oasis
Merchandise: Mugs, glassware, apparel, ephemera
Bonus cocktail recipe: Sunakora

The Madeira Beach space was originally slated to be a new Tiki Docks location, but 23 Restaurant Services shifted its strategy away from the Florida beach bar concept and accelerated its focus on the more traditional Don the Beachcomber brand. Additional Polynesian restaurants named for the tropical cocktail genre’s godfather have been announced for Viera in Brevard County on Florida’s east coast and Hamlin in Orange County just north of Disney World.

A photo posted Dec. 11 on Facebook by Daniel "Tiki Diablo" Gallardo shows the entrance to the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla.
A photo posted Dec. 11 on Facebook by Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo shows the entrance to the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla.

Though not yet listed on the official website, there’s also a stand-alone Don the Beachcomber bar planned for Tampa, revealed in October by Marie King, the 23 Restaurants Services director of beverage. King is a respected veteran in the tropical drinks world after managing California’s historic Tonga Hut from 2012 to early 2023. She also ran the bar program at the last Don the Beachcomber in California from 2009 to 2011.

According to the official timeline, the waterfront Viera location at the corner of Viera and Lake Andrews boulevards is set to open in 2025. But King said the smaller Tampa bar could open its doors first, likely in 2024.

Continue reading “First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: A delightful after-dinner drink for wahines … and kanes too

Updated June 2018
See below: Our Wahine Delight review | Ancestor recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
NEW: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail

A common misconception about tropical drinks is the notion that they’re “girly.” While they do tend to be sweet and flamboyant, many of the best Tiki cocktails – especially those at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale – are powerfully potent and worthy of any serious drinker, male or female, wahine or kane.

Ordered after dinner, the Wahine Delight arrives dusted with powdered sugar and presented as a desert course. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2013)
Ordered after dinner, the Wahine Delight arrives dusted with powdered sugar and presented as a desert course. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2013)

One possible exception is the Wahine Delight, an after-dinner drink most likely aimed at the fairer sex. It’s actually not too cloyingly sweet, a well-balanced and distinctive frozen daiquiri that goes light on the alcohol. Men may even appreciate it, especially as a follow-up to one of the restaurant’s spicy entrees or flaming deserts.

But it’s definitely designed as a lighter alternative to the Zombie and the Jet Pilot and the many other more masculine drinks on the menu.

This is not surprising when you consider the cocktail’s ancestry. The Wahine Delight was originally called the Missionary’s Doom and appeared on the opening day menu in 1956-57. It’s Mariano Licudine’s version of a Don the Beachcomber classic aimed at the fairer sex, the sweet and minty Missionary’s Downfall.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: A delightful after-dinner drink for wahines … and kanes too”