Every good story has its legendary heroes. In the case of Tiki Culture these legends are Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. Their stories are similar in many ways and although they were competitors for many years it was always a pleasant rivalry.
Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt better known as Donn Beach AKA Don the Beachcomber started his cocktail career as a bootlegger during Prohibition. Shortly after he moved to Hollywood and opened his first bar “Don’s Beachcomber”. A mere three years later in 1937 he opened the bar and restaurant for which he would become famous “Don the Beachcomber”. Following that he was called to service during World War II to create cocktails for military officers across the globe. This was likely what spurred the Tiki craze that followed the war. Donn went on to open a number of “Don the Beachcomber” restaurants including the one in the International Market in Honolulu, HI.
Starting at the same time in Oakland, CA Victor Jules Bergeron Jr, better known as Trader Vic, started his tiki career with a small bar and restaurant called “Hinky Dinks” which was located in his parent’s grocery store. Popularity quickly grew and the restaurant moved more and more to a Polynesian theme. With this move came a name change to “Trader Vics”. Vic also experienced an explosion of popularity following World War II and his restaurants quickly spread around the world.
Both of these legends of Tiki have since passed away, but their story will not be forgotten. Their legend lives on in the cocktails they left behind. Both men are credited with the creation of the Mai Tai which Aaron briefly discussed in his earlier post. Interestingly though, you’ll see recipes for the Mai Tai which in no way resemble this original recipe (as per Trader Vic’s). Robert Hess gives a good history of why that is the case in his Cocktail Spirit video about the Mai Tai. The same holds true for a number of classic Tiki cocktails. One recipe is the original, other bartenders try to match the flavor, get relatively close and poof, new recipe for the same drink.