Don The Beachcomber, Chicago 1960s
Ernst Raymond Gantt ( 1907–1989) was an American explorer, entrepreneur and WWII veteran, who became the founding father of tiki culture. He opened the first-ever tiki bar called Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s in Hollywood, California.
It offered potent rum cocktails, décor with a tropical island theme and exotic cuisine that he called South Seas islands food, but was actually standard Cantonese fare. Hollywood stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby, Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable patronized the place and were rewarded with their own monogrammed chopsticks to make them feel at home.
A clever showman, Don Beach (he had changed his name) faked the sound of rain falling on the tin roof, offered leis to customers and coined the motto; ‘If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.’
The theme was based on his adventures island hopping in the South Pacific during his 20s,
During WWII, when he won a Purple Heart, Don’s first wife Sunny Sund expanded the business and Don The Beachcomber restaurants became the first of America’s themed chains. At one point there were 16 restaurants, and many other restaurateurs imitated his tiki theme.
The couple divorced but continued to be business partners and Sunny’s Chicago Don The Beachcomber restaurant – where this menu is from – was named one of the top 50 restaurants in the US in 1947.
Retaining a role as a consultant, Don moved to Waikiki in Hawaii and set up other successful tiki-themed enterprises. He died in 1989 in Honolulu.
Courtesy Private Collection.
Each order includes a print of the interior menu.