It's Don the Beachcomber's birthday today! If you know and love tiki cocktails and history, you have
probably heard of him. If you have never heard of him you may be surprised to discover that a man who created a new identity from scratch would become one of the most influential people (for good and bad) in a whole new category of mixology: Tiki
Who was Don the Beachcomber?
Don the Beachcomber, born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt was born in 1907, with some sources indicating he was born in New Orleans and growing up in Limestone County, Texas, and others indicating that he was born in Texas. A U.S. Census document from 1910 has him living in Limestone County, Texas at the age of 3. The same 1910 census document lists him as being born in Texas, and his mother, Molly Gant, as having a father who was born in Louisiana. In a 1987 interview for The Watumull Foundation Oral History Project, Beach claims that he spent his early school days in Mandeville, Louisiana, as well as the Colony of Jamaica and Texas.
By his own account from an interview, he started first working with his mother running boarding houses when he was sixteen. Four years later he claims to have left home and traveled around the world. Upon returning, he left Texas again in 1929, traveling as a supercargo employee for the captain of a yacht heading to Sydney, Australia by way of Hawaii. He then spent at least an additional year island-hopping on freighters throughout the South Pacific.
The interview was given only three years before his death, and many dates are difficult to align. Because he had a reputation as a fabulist "spinner of tall tales", some claim that him actually living in the South Pacific is "almost certainly not true". Others, such as Edward Brownlee and Arnold Bitner, corroborate parts of his accounts.
Don's rise to fame
Gantt's rise to fame began in 1934 when he opened the Don the Beachcomber bar in Hollywood, California. The bar quickly became a popular hangout for celebrities and influencers, attracting attention for its exotic decor and exotic cocktails. Gantt was known for his innovative approach to bartending, combining various spirits, syrups, and juices to create unique and flavorful drinks.
Don the Beachcomber's bartending legacy is built on his unique use of ingredients and his mastery of mixology. He was one of the first bartenders to incorporate ingredients such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice into his cocktails, and he was known for his exotic syrups and juices. He also popularized the use of rum in cocktails, creating drinks such as the Mai Tai and Zombie, which are still popular today.
Despite his success, Gantt's life was not without its failures. In the late 1940s, he suffered a series of personal and financial setbacks, including bankruptcy and divorce. He also struggled with alcohol abuse, which took a toll on his health and his reputation.
Despite these challenges, Gantt continued to make a significant impact on the world of bartending and the tiki culture. He inspired countless bartenders and restaurateurs, and his legacy continues to live on today. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in tiki culture, with many bars and restaurants incorporating elements of Don the Beachcomber's style into their menus and decor.
In conclusion, Don the Beachcomber's life and legacy are a testament to the power of innovation and the enduring impact of great bartenders. He will always be remembered as one of the most influential figures in tiki culture and a true master of mixology.
Don the Beachcomber Cocktails: Pearl Diver
3/4 ounce lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
3/4 ounce Gardenia Mix (see Editor's Note)
3/4 ounce demerara rum, preferably Hamilton 86-proof or El Dorado 8-year
1 1/2 ounces gold Puerto Rican rum
1/2 ounce gold Jamaican rum
1 teaspoon falernum, preferably Latitude 29 Formula
6 ounces crushed ice
Garnish: geranium leaf
Combine all ingredients in a blender, starting with the Gardenia Mix and finishing with the ice.
Blend at a high speed for 15 seconds.
Strain through a medium-mesh wire sieve into a Pearl Diver glass, pressing gently on the solids to express all the liquid.
Add crushed ice to fill the glass.
Garnish with a geranium leaf.
Don's Gardenia Mix 1 cup unsalted butter, cubed 1 cup orange blossom honey 1 ounce cinnamon syrup 1/2 ounce allspice liqueur 1/2 ounce vanilla syrup
DIRECTIONS 1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until melted and smooth. 2. Because this is an iced drink, prepare the mix right before using it.
Meares, Hadley (April 18, 2013). "Don the Beachcomber's Tiki Haven". KCET. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
"Combing for Photos of Dallas' Don the Beachcomber". dallasobserver.com. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
"Inside Don The Beachcomber: The Original Tiki Bar". foodrepublic.com. 24 October 2016. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
1910 Census - Limestone County, TX. Washington, DC: US Government. 1910.
Sinesky, Alice (September 16, 1986). "INTERVIEW WITH DONN BEACH" (PDF). The Watumull Foundation, Oral History Project.
Spiers, Katherine. "Don the Beachcomber's Tiki Haven". Serious Eats. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
Berry, Jeff (2017). Sippin' Safari (10th Anniversary ed.). New York: Cocktail Kingdom. p. 49.
"Dust-covered volume of Don the Beachcomber archives is Tiki treasure trove". pe.com. 2 February 2019. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
Bitner, Arnold (2001). Hawai'i Tropical Rum Drinks by Don the Beachcomber. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing. p. xii.1: