The Revival of Don the Beachcomber (PHOTOS)

Although a tiki bar typically wouldn’t be included in a story on fine dining, the legendary Don the Beachcomber defies categorization. This isn’t your average kitschy cocktail haven. It’s a cultural icon that pioneered the tiki movement in America. Few names carry the mystique as Donn Beach, the godfather of “Tiki Culture.” In 1934, Donn Beach, along with his wife Cora, transformed a Los Angeles parking lot into the first Don the Beachcomber, kicking off the Polynesian pop craze that swept the nation. Over the next few decades, the Don the Beachcomber empire grew to over 16 locations, captivating guests with its exotic cocktails and an immersive Pacific Island atmosphere.   

The rights of Don the Beachcomber ended like many love stories, in divorce, where each party forged their own paths. Cora Irene Sund, known as Sunny Sund, was the business brains behind Don the Beachcomber, creating the tiki oasis for the Hollywood elite in the 1930s. After divorcing in 1940, Sund took control of the restaurant operation, forbidding Beach from using the name. Not to be deterred, he moved to Hawaii and created new legendary tiki restaurants at the Royal Kona and Royal Lahaina resorts.

Fast forward to 2007, when Delia Wu Snyder purchased the rights for Don the Beachcomber from Sund. She and her husband operated the Huntington Beach restaurant until 2018, when the last Don the Beachcomber finally shuttered its doors. 

How did the legendary namesake Don the Beachcomber land on Madeira Beach from the West Coast? Fortunately for Florida, and the East Coast, in general, Marc Brown the president of 23 Restaurant Services, had the vision to purchase the iconic Don the Beachcomber brand to revitalize it. The brand seamlessly complements 23 Restaurant’s central mission of establishing itself as the premier hospitality provider for iconic brands. Their diverse portfolio encompasses Ford’s Garage, an automotive-themed dining experience, Yeoman’s Topgolf Swing Suite, offering a virtual golfing experience, and Tiki Docs, a tropical haven for libations and relaxation.

Located on the ground floor of the Cambria on Madeira Beach, Don the Beachcomber opened in February, offering a captivating escape from the ordinary. While steps from the beach, Don the Beachcomber transcends the typical beach bar, transporting patrons to an immersive Polynesian paradise that embodies the quintessential tiki vibe, a rare find in Florida’s coastal scene.

Brown led the vision to create an authentic tiki experience that feels timeless, yet modern, by assembling an advisory board of the most influential voices in the tiki realm for the last 30 years. Those who follow the tiki culture likely recognize the names Tim “Swanky” Glazner, a Donn Beach historian and author of “Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant,” Martin Cate, an author and owner of Smuggler’s Cove, Sven Kirsten, the author of several books, including “The Book of Tiki” which is considered the Tiki Bible, John Mulder, the famous mug designer and owner of Eekum Bookum Tiki Mugs, and Adrian Eustaquio, the host of the tiki podcast Inside the Desert Oasis Room.  

Brown enlisted the expertise of Daniel Gallardo, renowned as Tiki Diablo, to meticulously craft the Polynesian tiki environment. Over the course of four months, Gallardo and his team of three talented artists – Tom Fowner, Dave “Basement Kahuna” Wolfe and Patrick Vassar – hand-carved every intricate detail in the bar, ultimately delivering a tropical oasis that transports guests to another world.

Every aspect is carefully curated, including the music filling the air, reminiscent of the tiki movement’s golden age. Tiki mugs, a beloved hallmark of tiki culture and coveted by collectors worldwide, are integrated in the decor. Don the Beachcomber is curating its own esteemed tiki mug collection, comprised of pieces donated and gifted by the passionate community, further cementing its place in the vibrant tiki culture.


Beach left an indelible mark through his groundbreaking mixology techniques incorporating a kaleidoscope of exotic ingredients, rum and garnishes, balancing tanginess and sweetness. Concoctions, such as the iconic Zombie and the classic Mai Tai, transcended mere beverages to become legendary elixirs.

The infamous Zombie cocktail, crafted by Donn Beach in 1934, lives up to its reputation as “a mender of broken dreams.” A potent blend of gold rum, Jamaican rum, Demerara rum and a proprietary mix of citrus and spices makes this a dangerously delicious tipple. Proceed with caution – a limit of two is wise advice.

For the vodka lover, the Nutty Chi Chi offers a creamy indulgence with hints of coconut and macadamia nuts. This vacation in a glass can be made with rum for those who prefer. Either way, it’s pure escapism.

There are several mocktail options for those foregoing alcohol. A refreshing standout is the Darbari Soda providing a jolt of vibrant, complex flavors – toasted cumin, black pepper, black salt and fresh lemon, livened up with a splash of soda water. An intriguing taste of the exotic, no passport required.


Beach originally popularized the pu pu platter as a foundational element for Polynesian-themed eateries. Today’s iteration at Don the Beachcomber is a feast to be shared, showcasing an array of delights such as coconut shrimp, crab rangoon, low and slow wings, chicken satay skewers and sticky rib skewers. Adding to the authenticity, a genuine flame graces the center of the presentation, evoking the quintessential tiki experience.

For seafood lovers, the Spice Seared Ahi Saku is a must-try. Fresh ahi tuna is blackened with a blend of spices, sliced thin, and drizzled with a sweet chili soy emulsion. A cucumber mango pico adds bright pops of flavor and texture tantalizing the tongue.

The Pineapple Upside Down Cake is a classic treat, an elevated twist with fresh pineapple baked into a vanilla bean-infused cake and topped with a luscious, salted caramel sauce. Served with a scoop of velvety ice cream to melt into the warm caramel, it’s an indulgent, yet refreshing, way to conclude your dining experience.

To truly embrace the island lifestyle, arrive by boat and dock at one of the seven fully staffed slips at the Cambria. Whether you’re coming for the iconic cocktails, flavorful cuisine or just to bask in the ambiance, arriving by boat allows you to fully immerse yourself in the rejuvenating tiki vibe from the moment you pull up to the dock.

The Tampa Bay region is fortunate that 23 Restaurants purchased the rights for Don the Beachcomber and, at the direction of Brown, is bringing the tiki culture to Madeira Beach, with two additional locations scheduled to open in Gainesville and Hamlin, Florida.  ♦

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