Today we honor another of the legends of bartending: Don “The Beachcomber” Beach (born on this day in 1907), one of the founding fathers of the tiki bar, alongside his longtime friendly rival Trader Vic.
Don Beach was born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt in Texas’ Limestone County. As a young man, Gantt traveled to the Caribbean and South Pacific before arriving in Los Angeles in 1931. There, he worked a few odd jobs including some time as a bootlegger during the last months of Prohibition. In 1934, he opened a small tropical themed bar in Hollywood that he named Don’s Beachcomber Cafe which later moved to a larger space and was rechristened Don The Beachcomber.
It was at this bar that Gantt, now using the bar’s name as his own, mixed island inspired rum cocktails and served Cantonese cuisine much to the delight of his customers, which included many of Hollywood’s elite. The first pu pu platter and Mai Tai might have been served at Don The Beachcomber’s, although Trader Vic would also take credit for creating the latter.
Many other Don The Beachcomber restaurants opened across the country during the post-war tiki fad of the 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, while Trader Vic’s restaurants still exist to this day, there are no longer any Don The Beachcomber restaurants, not even the historic Hollywood bar. However Don Beach’s legacy lives on to this day in the continued popularity of the many tiki drinks he either created or popularized.
The Beachcomber’s most notable creation was a cocktail called the Zombie. The story goes that Don the Beachcomber created this highly potent potable when a hungover customer came in and asked for something that could help him get through a business meeting. So, Don whipped up this recipe as a hair of the dog style solution. The patron came back the next day and said that while he was able to get through the business meeting, he felt like a zombie. The cocktail quickly became a hit, and because it was so highly alcoholic, Don the Beachcomber restaurants limited customers to two Zombies per visit. The Beachcomber often changed his Zombie recipe, so we’ve got two different takes on the Zombie today. The first is Don Beach’s very own original 1934 recipe; and the second is a simplified take on the drink.
Zombie (Beachcomber’s 1934 version)
- 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/2 ounce Don’s Mix (2 parts grapefruit juice, 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup)
- 1/2 ounce falernum syrup
- 1 1/2 ounce Lowndes Jamaican Rum (sub in any Dark Rum, as Lowndes is extinct)
- 1 1/2 ounce Gold Puerto Rican Rum
- 1 ounce 151-proof Demerara Rum
- Dash Angostura Bitters
- Dash Grenadine
- Dash Absinthe
- 6 oz crushed ice
Put everything into a blender, saving ice for last. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chimney glass. Add ice to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Zombie (Alternate Version)
- 1 ounce Light Rum
- 1 ounce Golden Rum
- 1 ounce Dark Rum
- 1 ounce Apricot Brandy
- 1 ounce pineapple juice
- 1 ounce papaya juice
- Dash of Grenadine
- 1/2 ounce 151-proof rum
Shake all ingredients except the 151-proof rum with ice and strain into a Collins glass or Hurricane glass. Float the 151-proof rum and garnish with a pineapple or cherry.
Tomorrow: A horse thief.