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BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida

BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida

Riding a wave of success following the February opening of the first of many new Don the Beachcomber restaurants, the team behind the ambitious brand re-launch took the stage at Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando earlier this month to offer a sneak preview of new locations planned for Florida.

The presentation before hundreds of faithful fans gathered in an expansive ballroom at the Caribe Royale Resort did not disappoint, revealing new details about the flagship restaurant that will be built just a stone’s throw from Walt Disney World. Parent company 23 Restaurant Services also broke the news of a new “brand within a brand” dubbed the Gantt Reserve Collection from Don the Beachcomber.

The new Don the Beachcomber bar concept was unveiled at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The new Don the Beachcomber bar concept was unveiled at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Jump to more below:
* Full coverage of Tiki-a-Go-Go presentation
NEW: Renderings, plans for Orlando restaurant revealed
* Gantt Reserve Collection bars introduced
NEW: Upcoming South Florida location uncovered
* The Donn of Tiki makes a splash at Florida Film Festival
* Donn Beach biography expected next spring

This smaller, more bar-centric concept will be rolled out much faster than the 300-seat restaurant in Madeira Beach or the even larger one planned for the Orlando area. If the build-out goes according to plan, guests will be enjoying elevated Don the Beachcomber cocktails at Gantt Reserve Collection bars in Tampa this summer, then Plantation in southeast Florida in the fall.

We also learned that the Don the Beachcomber in Hamlin (opening in summer 2025) will feature not only views of the nightly fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, but also another Gantt Reserve Collection bar tucked inside, speakeasy style. Our full recap below will include details on these projects, new custom mugs, plus more information gathered after Tiki-a-Go-Go.

Justin Peterson (right) introduces the participants in the 'Don the Beachcomber Returns!" panel at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. From left: John Mulder, Sven Kirsten, Marc Brown, Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Justin Peterson (right) introduces the participants in the ‘Don the Beachcomber Returns!” panel at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024. From left: John Mulder, Sven Kirsten, Marc Brown, Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Don the Beachcomber presentation caps first annual Tiki event in Orlando

The juxtaposition was intentional. The inaugural Tiki-a-Go-Go kicked off April 5 with a panel discussion on the restoration and reopening of The Mai-Kai, Florida’s historic Tiki temple that will soon return from a nearly four-year slumber. The daily programming wrapped up 30 hours later with a presentation on another legendary brand that recently re-launched in the Sunshine State with bold expansion plans.

The April 6 panel Don the Beachcomber Returns! was hosted by 23 Restaurant Services creative director Justin Peterson and featured company President Marc Brown, beverage director Marie King, author Tim “Swanky” Glazner, historian Sven Kirsten, and Eekum Bookum mug master John Mulder.

Before unveiling the news on planned openings, the group discussed the flawless debut of the first new restaurant and bar based on the legacy of Donn Beach, who kick-started the Tiki bar craze in 1932 with his groundbreaking speakeasy in Hollywood, Calif. His influence is still felt today with a new wave of tropical cocktail bars around the world paying him respect, inspiring a new film and upcoming book.

Bartenders set up for the grand opening of the Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Bartenders set up for the grand opening of the Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23, 2024. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

After acquiring the rights to the Don the Beachcomber name, Tampa-based 23 Restaurant Services opened the first location in Madeira Beach on Feb. 23. The company’s other brands include Ford’s Garage, Yeoman’s Top Golf Swing Suite, and Tiki Docks.
Review & photos: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

Peterson praised King and Jennifer Paci, director of new restaurant openings, for the smooth debut. “The food and drinks are just immaculate,” he said. He also gave a shout-out to the the artists who built the interior, notably Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, Patrick Vassar, Tom Fowner, and Dave “Basement Kahuna” Wolfe.

King said she designed the cocktail menu based on historic Don the Beachcomber recipes, adding her own spin where appropriate: “I had the daunting privilege of re-creating a Don the Beachcomber menu with the mindset of ‘What would Donn do today?’ ” King is a veteran manager and bartender with decades of experience in the California scene, including a stint at the last Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach as well as 11 years at the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

The challenge in Florida, she explained, is introducing a beach/tourist crowd to a style of cocktails they may not be familiar with. So she tries to ease them in with lighter offerings, such as a Frosé featuring rum and rosé. “Donn didn’t have tequila drinks on his menu, but I think that today he would have reinvented his philosophy and brought in some tequila drinks,” King said. “So we do that as well.”

Marie King talks about her experience as beverage director for the new Don the Beachcomber restaurants during Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Marie King talks about her experience as beverage director for the new Don the Beachcomber restaurants during Tiki-a-Go-Go in Orlando on April 6. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Another hurdle that took King out of her comfort zone was training the large, mostly inexperienced, staff on the nuances of Don the Beachcomber and Tiki culture. “We taught them who Donn was, who Sunny (Sund) was, what the business was, Hawaii, L.A., Chicago, the Mob, everything,” King said.

The training included everyone “from dishwasher to host,” utilizing the systems that Paci and 23 Restaurant Services employ to ensure a well-versed staff. “Everyone you come into contact with has a little bit of knowledge about what the legacy means,” King said. “You as the guests should feel like you’ve just walked into a Don the Beachcomber under their tutelage.”

But King’s most intense training was saved for her young bartenders, who she lovingly calls her “kittens.” She said she spent three days of boot camp “before any other soul walked in the building” with just the bartenders. “We did drills, we did mock service.” The end result speaks for itself, as many have corroborated.

Sven Kirsten speaks during the Don the Beachcomber presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go about his experience at the new Madeira Beach location. Seated on the panel are Marc Brown (left), Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)
Sven Kirsten speaks during the Don the Beachcomber presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go about his experience at the new Madeira Beach location. Seated on the panel are Marc Brown (left), Marie King, and Tim Glazner. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward / April 6, 2024)

“I was blown away,” said Kirsten, who visited the Madeira Beach restaurant for the first time just three days earlier. “It’s in a very nondescript building, and in that way it really fulfills the purpose of being an escape. You step from a mundane world into this incredible escapist space.” Kirsten literally wrote the book on this topic. His influential contributions to the culture include The Book of Tiki and Tiki Pop.

Kirsten was also impressed with the packed house and the eclectic crowd, which he said was comprised of many families with “little tykes having a great time.” He added with a laugh: “It wasn’t just you Tiki nerds.”

“That’s what Tiki needs,” he continued. “It needs everybody to get into the act. It was wonderful to see that in Madeira Beach.”

Mulder added to that topic, talking about a recent visit with his granddaughter. She loved the non-alcoholic drinks and the desserts, while he was also enamored by the environment. “The decor is perfect,” said the creator of the signature Legend Returns mug. “It’s really immersive. You really feel like you’re in a Tiki bar. I was really, really impressed.”

An image shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 shows new Rum Barrel mugs from Don the Beachcomber and Tiki Farm. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
An image shared at Tiki-a-Go-Go in April 2024 shows new Rum Barrel mugs from Don the Beachcomber and Tiki Farm. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Peterson took the opportunity to reveal some new mug designs expected to roll out in Madeira Beach and elsewhere in the coming months. You can also expect to find them in the online store, Shop.DonBeachcomber.com.

By popular demand, the first to arrive will be a classic Rum Barrel mug, currently in production by Tiki Farm. Peterson said they hope to have them in hand by July, just in time for Tiki Oasis.

The creative director also showed off his first Don the Beachcomber mug design, based on his new signature logo of Donn Beach’s profile. He said he wanted it to be different than the other mugs created over the years inspired by Beach’s likeness.

Attendees at the 'Don the Beachcomber Returns!' presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6 got a peek at Justin Peterson's concept art for a new mug, along with the sculpt by Tiki Farm. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Attendees at the ‘Don the Beachcomber Returns!’ presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go on April 6 got a peek at Justin Peterson’s concept art for a new mug, along with the sculpt by Tiki Farm. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

The audience saw slides featuring Peterson’s conceptual artwork as well as photos of the sculpt created by Tiki Farm. The final glaze will have a matte finish that looks like wood, he said. The lei and flower will be pink and yellow, respectively, and the logo will be white.

Peterson called it “a dream come true to have a mug with my name slapped on the bottom of it,” adding that he’s hoping for a late summer release.

Also touted were several mug collaborations with noted Tiki artists. Big Toe is designing a bowl that Peterson said is as intricate as Mulder’s Legend Returns mug. Mitchell Spain Ceramics, which has perfected a method of creating what looks like rust on ceramics, is making “vintage style tumblers” that may be ready in time for The Hukilau in June. Also in the pipeline is a mug from Taboo Relics, due later this year or early next year.

Renderings, plans for Orlando restaurant revealed

The highlight of the Don the Beachcomber Returns! presentation April 6 at Tiki-a-Go-Go was the discussion and details on the new locations expected to open over the next several years. The excitement level was high, not just because of the historic nature of the news. Many attendees live not far from ground zero of the expansion in Florida.

An updated rendering of the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant planned for the Orlando area, revealed April 6 during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
An updated rendering of the new Don the Beachcomber restaurant planned for the Orlando area, revealed April 6 during a presentation at Tiki-a-Go-Go. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

First on the agenda was the previously announced build-out planned for Hamlin Town Center, just north of Disney World, which has moved up on the schedule slightly to summer 2025. “We plan to break ground relatively soon,” said Peterson, the creative director. “When that opens, it will be the crown jewel in our collection.”

Continue reading “BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida”

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”

Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss

Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss

Like many recent years, 2023 was defined by loss, from a deadly natural disaster to the passing of a beloved artist. But there are two other words that better sum up 2023: Aspiration and revival. Among the year’s highlights are the return of three historic restaurants, the resurrection of a legendary rum, a groundbreaking cocktail book that looks ahead by honoring the past, plus an overall renewed appreciation for Tiki culture and cocktails. If nothing else, it gives us hope for an eventful 2024.
Related: The Year in Tiki 2023: A look back at the top events in photos, video
Bonus recipes below: Beachcomber Punch | Ray’s Mystique

1. TRAGEDY IN MAUI: Lahaina devastated by wildfires

Wildfires ravaged Maui's historic resort city of Lahaina in August 2023. (Wikimedia Commons)
Wildfires ravaged Maui’s historic resort city of Lahaina in August 2023. (Wikimedia Commons)

Wildfires swept across the island of Maui on Aug. 8, killing at least 100 people in one of the nation’s deadliest disasters. The fires destroyed most of Lahaina – the original capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom – on the northwest coast. Residents fled as the blazes incinerated thousands of structures, causing more than $5 billion in damage.

Among the historic structures lost were the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Waiola Church, Pioneer Inn, and Kimo’s restaurant. Lahaina’s famous banyan tree, planted in 1873, had most of its foliage charred, though was still standing after the wildfires.

Before the fires, the Lahaina Historic District was a bustling tourist destination with stores and restaurants attracting many visitors. The district included 60 historic sites with Front Street ranked one of the “Top Ten Greatest Streets” by the American Planning Association. Lahaina was also a popular whale-watching site. It has a long history as a shipping and whaling town.

The wildfires were attributed to dry, gusty conditions created by a strong high-pressure area north of Hawaii, and Hurricane Dora to the south. The death toll is the largest for a wildfire in the United States since the Cloquet Fire of 1918 in northern Minnesota, which claimed 453 lives.

The historic tree in Lahaina's Banyan Court Park, shown in 2016, survived the 2023 wildfires. (Wikimedia Commons)
The historic tree in Lahaina’s Banyan Court Park, shown in 2016, survived the 2023 wildfires. (Wikimedia Commons)

President Biden ordered the mobilization of “all available federal assets” to respond to the wildfires, including the Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard, and FEMA. Other countries pledged aid, and fund-raising efforts across the U.S. raised $30 million within 10 days. The Maui Strong Fund, which provides financial resources to support the immediate and long-term recovery needs for the people and places affected by the wildfires, has raised more than $177 million to date and awarded grants totaling more than $86 million.

The disaster was also a call to action for many in the Tiki community, which united for fund-raisers and other special events. From bars and restaurants, to concerts and special events, supporters rallied to help in any way they could. Mark Riddle donated profits from the sale of his Lahaina Sunset album, which was inspired by a trip to Maui.

In mid-December, the heart of Lahaina reopened to residents and business owners as the historic banyan tree began sprouting new leaves. As of late December, Lahaina opened its remaining schools and welcomed tourists back to areas unaffected by the fires. Maui county officials say rebuilding the burned structures won’t begin for another 18-24 months, and big-picture plans are hazy. Rebuilding completely, including replacing all of the lost structures, will cost an estimated $5.5 billion.

With the exception of Lahaina, Maui is open and there is plenty to see and experience, according to the GoHawaii.com website. Guests are urged to “visit with aloha, compassion and empathy,” and to support local businesses. The MauiNuiFirst.com website offers many other suggestions.

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2. DON THE BEACHCOMBER: Anticipation for new restaurant chain, film and book reaches fever pitch

A classic portrait of Don the Beachcomber inspired a new mug by Eekum Bookum. The new restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla., will feature a similar photo op. (Facebook photos)
A classic portrait of Don the Beachcomber inspired a new mug by Eekum Bookum. The new restaurant in Madeira Beach, Fla., will feature a similar photo op. (Facebook photos)

While slowly building for years, interest in the founding father of the 20th century Polynesian restaurant explosion went through the roof in 2023 as three major projects neared the finish line. By the end of the year, a new Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Southwest Florida was hiring staff and putting the final touches on construction. The Donn of Tiki documentary was 99 percent complete as the filmmakers finished up the end credits and licensing rights. Meanwhile, the manuscript for Tim “Swanky” Glazner’s book, Searching for Don the Beachcomber, was nearing the design and editing stages. After several years of non-stop work, these projects are now poised for a major splash in the new year and beyond.

The revival of the Don the Beachcomber brand took center stage after the announcement in February that Florida-based 23 Restaurant Services would be reviving the restaurant chain nationwide, beginning with multiple locations in the Sunshine State expected to open in the next several years. Skeptics were quickly assured of the legitimacy of the project when veteran bar manager Marie King was plucked from the venerable Tonga Hut to become director of beverage. In addition to leading the oldest Tiki bar in Los Angeles, King had previously built the cocktail program at the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., which closed in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 2018. The design of the new restaurants is in the capable hands of artist Daniel “Tiki Diablo” Gallardo, long admired for his expertise and craftsmanship in building traditional Tiki bar spaces.

Continue reading “Top 10 stories of 2023: Tiki resurgence and appreciation breathes life into year marked by loss”

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”

New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast

LATEST UPDATES
* Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success (February 2024)
* Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida (February 2024)
* First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024 (December 2023)
* Florida is ground zero for revival of iconic brand (October 2023)

The Feb. 22 birthday of Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber (1907-1989) is typically a red-letter day for many bartenders and home enthusiasts, who celebrate by mixing up classic tropical cocktails to toast the originator of such iconic drinks as the Zombie, Nui Nui, and Three Dots and a Dash. This custom has intensified recently with the announcement of new book and film projects that celebrate the life of times of the creator of what’s now known as Polynesian Pop, aka Tiki culture.

Don the Beachcomber

Jump to more below
Sneak peek: Renderings, video of the new location near Orlando
Bonus recipe below: Don’s Beach Planter cocktail

But the occasion gained special importance this year with the announcement that a Tampa-based hospitality company will begin rolling out a chain of new Tiki-themed restaurants featuring the Don the Beachcomber branding in 2023. According to a press release from 23 Restaurant Services, “there are currently two Don the Beachcomber restaurants and bars under development in Central Florida, with the first slated to open by the end of the year.”

The company’s president, Marc Brown, said in the release that he expects as many as 10 to 15 restaurants to be spread across the Southeast over the next several years, with plans to expand nationally. Brown’s company bought the rights to the Don the Beachcomber brand in 2021, aiming to incorporate it into its successful Tiki Docks concept in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)
Ernest Raymond Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, was a former bootlegger who kicked off the Tiki craze with his first bar in Hollywood, Calif., in 1933. Within a few years, imitators sprang up across the country. (Courtesy of 23 Restaurant Services)

The birthday of Donn Beach, who legally changed his name from Ernest Raymond Gantt after the success of his Don the Beachcomber restaurants in the 1930s, seemed like a great time to announce the ambitious plan that 23 Restaurant Services calls “an expansive growth strategy.”

“Each of the restaurants will feature the eccentric, Polynesian-inspired design and flamboyant, rum-based drinks that have become synonymous with Don the Beachcomber locations for more than 90 years,” the press release says.

“Don the Beachcomber is the most iconic brand in Tiki history, so it’s impossible to overstate how excited we are about what lies ahead,” Brown said. “We look forward to leveraging our expertise in management and operational excellence to reintroduce the world to the legend that is Don the Beachcomber.”

Searching for Don the Beachcomber by Tim "Swanky" Glazner

To accomplish this, 23 Restaurant Services will be guided by an advisory board featuring some of the top artists, writers, and bartenders from the current Tiki scene:

Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)
Marie King, who will lead the new Don the Beachcomber cocktail program, previously managed the venerable Tonga Hut in Los Angeles. She has been a leader and mainstay in the industry since running the bar at the Don the Beachcomber in Southern California before it closed in 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward from The Hukilau 2022 in Pompano Beach)

“Assembling this dynamic and legendary group of experts to serve as our advisory board was the first step in developing a plan to share and represent the history and life of Don the Beachcomber with the utmost authenticity,” Brown said. “We could not be more excited to share the work we are doing together to bring Don the Beachcomber back to life.”

In addition to the advisers, Brown has taken a huge first step in bringing back Don the Beachcomber’s classic cocktails by , former beverage director and general manager of Tonga Hut in Los Angeles, as director of beverage for 23 Restaurant Services. King also served as beverage director of the last Don the Beachcomber restaurant in the continental U.S., located in Huntington Beach, Calif., from 2009 to 2018. Like 23 Restaurant Services, the owners of this location purchased the name and did not have any connection to the original company.

Continue reading “New Don the Beachcomber locations launching in Florida, up to 15 planned across Southeast”

The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021

After the suffering bastard of a year that was 2020, we were primed and ready for some relief and positive Tiki vibes. If 2020 was a house of horrors, then 2021 was a roller-coaster ride. But while we’re still mired in pandemic-related disruptions, many things achieved a “new normal” over the past 12 months.
RELATED: The Year in Tiki 2021 – A look back at the year’s top live and virtual events

We remain thankful for every bit of good news. While a few of the stories below are frustrating (No. 4) or bittersweet (No. 1), they’re far out-numbered by the explosions of creativity and collective talent that drove most of the year’s activity. For that, we toast the entire Tiki community with a new cocktail and The Atomic Grog’s picks for the 10 most newsworthy stories of 2021.
Bonus recipe below: The Tiki Lover

1. ALOHA AND FAREWELL, OCEANIC ARTS

Oceanic Arts closing after 65 years

As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, there was one enduring creative force over the past six decades of Polynesian Pop style. In November 2021, there was a total eclipse and extended period of mourning when it was announced that Oceanic Arts would be closing its doors as its 80-something-year-old founders embark on a well-deserved retirement. Established in 1956 in Southern California by Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, the company was always the go-to provider of original and imported pieces of South Seas art and decor for everyone from home enthusiasts to theme park giants including Disney (the doors to Trader Sam’s in Disneyland are Schmaltz’ handiwork). Art and woodwork originating from Oceanic Arts has been featured in nearly every legendary Polynesian palace, from Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic’s to The Mai-Kai. The company put together movie set pieces and provided the distinctive style of many of the mid 20th century’s Tiki-themed hotels and motels, bowling alleys, and countless other establishments. Buoyed by the Tiki revival, the small shop in Whittier became a mecca for Tikiphiles from around the world and inspired a new generation of carvers and artists in the 21st century.

While the closing seemed to have come out of the blue, Van Oosting and Schmaltz had been planning their retirement for some time. They joined forces with longtime friend Jordan Reichek, owner of Peekaboo Gallery in nearby Montrose, for an epic career-spanning retrospective coming in 2022. In the spring, look for what’s being called an “experiential Tiki exhibition” featuring art and artifacts from Oceanic Arts paired with special events that include live music and performances, panel discussions, an “epic Tiki bar,” and more. The events will culminate with the “ultimate Tiki auction” art show and sale. In the meantime, the gallery is taking pre-orders for a mammoth Oceanic Arts history book compiled and written by Reichek, who worked closely with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki is a 500-page opus that documents the rich history of Oceanic Arts via thousands of photos, original artwork and historical documents from the archives. After 65 years, Oceanic Arts leaves an indelible mark on pop culture that is likely to last for many more decades to come.

PeekabooGallery.com: Pre-order the book now
Get social media updates: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
News: Whittier’s Oceanic Arts, the delight of tiki lovers around the world, is closing
Online tribute: Quiet Village podcast dedicated to Oceanic Arts

Past coverage
* Video: Inside the Desert Oasis Room | A Moment of Tiki
Randomland | Huel Howser
* Van Oosting and Schmaltz on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
* The enchanting tikis of Oceanic Arts (Disney History 101)

2. PARADISE SAVED: NEW OWNERS REVIVE THE MAI-KAI

The entire Tiki community heaved a sigh of relief in September when the announcement came that The Mai-Kai – the historic, 65-year-old restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that has been closed due to storm damage since October 2020 – was saved from extinction by a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into a restoration and refurbishment. The year started with much concern after press reports emerged about the roof damage that destroyed the kitchen. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a month as devoted fans united online to share their support and concerns. The skeleton crew of owners and staff continued to offer regular takeout cocktails and began a series of events in the expansive parking lot. The highlights were The Mai-Kai’s first-ever Tiki Marketplace in April featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more. A follow-up event in July kept the momentum going while behind-the-scene negotiations were likely starting to ramp up.

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

The big announcement came in September, just after hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the country finally returned to Fort Lauderdale for the 19th edition of The Hukilau. Then, a week later, the long-awaited news dropped. The founding Thornton family released details on social media on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company known for working with legacy businesses. Its sister hospitality company already operates several vintage venues in Miami’s Little Havana. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!” Check out links to our in-depth report above and latest updates below.

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
When will the historic Polynesian restaurant be welcoming back guests? We’ll keep you updated with the latest news.

3. LET’S TIKI! THE RETURN OF LIVE EVENTS

The crushing blow of the pandemic was not easy to overcome for event organizers, but we slowly came out of our homes in 2021 and began to gather again in safe and physically-distanced environments. Longtime online meet-ups – most notably Tiki Trail Live and Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour – continued to thrive. But many longed for live human interaction, and a handful of key (mainly outdoor) events delivered that experience in the year’s early months. Then, when vaccines became widely available, we saw the return of several major Tiki events starting with Arizona Tiki Oasis on April 22-25. Carefully organized by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the event paved the way for an active summer, including the couple’s flagship Tiki Oasis on July 28 -Aug. 1 in San Diego. Momentum slowed in the late summer and fall as the first of several coronavirus variants emerged, but Tikiphiles still flocked to scaled-down events including Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, The Hukilau and Tiki Fever in Florida, and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, Calif. Rum aficionados around the world also were able to get back into the swing of tasting events, from the Jamaica Rum Festival in March to the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in November. See the full list of major 2021 events below.

The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year's top live and virtual events
The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year’s top live and virtual events
Recap the year’s top happenings, including official artwork and links plus photos and video.

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