Restaurant Review: Don The Beachcomber in Huntington Beach
The famous eatery serves up dishes with dramatic flair.
Fear not my Tikiphile friends: Don the Beachcomber still has the seashell lanterns, carved totems, indoor waterfall action, palm fronds, coconut shells and puffer fish that filled the giant restaurant in Sunset Beach when it was (briefly) Kona, and Sam's Seafood for 40 years before that.
But it also has made a few additions since opening its doors in April. Local carving wizard Bamboo Ben made bamboo partitions to cozy up the place. And Ben built a bamboo hutch for the bar where regulars can keep their own Tiki cocktail cup.
The drink menu is new too, or at least the recipes are. The bar menu has 16 rum drinks, like Missionary's Downfall ($8) and the original 1934 Zombie ($11), all invented by Don the Beachcomber, who the place is named after.
The first Don the Beachcomber opened in 1934 in Hollywood and soon had a following of stars like Charlie Chaplin and Joan Crawford. When Don (real name Ernest Gantt) died in 1989, all 16 of his restaurants closed. Last spring, former Los Angeles Councilman Art Snyder bought the Don the Beachcomber name from the family (Snyder's wife, Delia, was friends with Don). The Snyders' hope is to keep the Tiki flame alive in Orange County.
Besides starting the Polynesian restaurant fad, Don is credited with inventing 84 mixed drinks. The bar manager says she plans to add one or two of those to the menu every few weeks. She is researching the vintage recipes for drinks like the Navy Grog ($9), and trying to track down the rums Don used. She also says she is using all fresh squeezed fruit juices, instead of the sickly sweet cocktail mixes that she blames for the downfall of the Tiki bar.