While the tiki bar craze didn’t catch on until a little after WWII, the origins of the fad actually date back to 1930s Los Angeles where barman Donn Beach perfected the signature tiki cocktail and aesthetic at his bar, Don the Beachcomber, in Hollywood.
Born in Texas in 1907, Beach (né Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) was a unique, charismatic character with an adventurous spirit. He spent his early years island hopping in the Caribbean and South Pacific. In 1931 at age 24, he landed in Southern California where he did odd jobs and even a bit of bootlegging.
In 1933, Beach decided to put down stakes in Hollywood where he opened Don the Beachcomber just off of Hollywood Boulevard. The bar, which featured tropical décor, specialized in high-octane rum cocktails, mostly because rum was cheap.
According to legend, Beach first made the Zombie — considered the original tiki drink — in 1934 for a hungover customer who asked for something to get him through a business meeting. Beach combined several high-proof rums, absinthe, and a mix of juice and syrups. The result was a sweet and potent cocktail, which the customer later returned to complain had turned him into a zombie for several days.
Beach was famously secretive about his recipes. He would premix batches of cocktails and instruct his bartenders to build them using color-coded recipes in a closed kitchen. Beach was so exacting about his recipes he even had some ingredients mixed offsite at a pharmacy.
After serving in WWII, Beach returned to find that his ex-wife had successfully franchised Don the Beachcomber, opening 16 locations. Beach signed on as a consultant then promptly headed for Waikiki Beach in Hawaii where he opened his own unaffiliated Don the Beachcomber restaurant.
Don the Beachcomber restaurant
Such secrecy has required bartenders to guess as to the exact combination and ratios of ingredients, which means recipes vary wildly. The common theme consists of several types of rum and a lot of juice and other sugary sweeteners. However, a 2014 article in LA Weekly presents what appears to be the closest recreation thanks to the work of dedicated mixologists over the years.
The Zombie Recipe
1.5 oz. gold Puerto Rican rum
1.5 oz. Jamaican rum
1 oz. 151 Demerara rum
3/4 oz. lime juice
1/2 oz. Donn’s Mix*
1/2 oz. falernum [LINK: goo.gl/7BSHJe]
1 tsp grenadine
8 drops absinthe
1 dash bitters
Directions: In a blender, blend all ingredients with 1/4 cup of ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a hurricane or tall Collins glass, and garnish with mint.
Donn’s Mix Recipe
via Sippin’ Safari by Jeff Berry
3 cinnamon sticks, crushed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Fresh grapefruit juice
Directions for Donn’s Mix In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. Let simmer for two minutes, remove from heat, and let sit for at least two hours. Strain into a clean glass bottle. Add one part of the syrup to two parts fresh grapefruit juice. Cover and refrigerate.
Enjoy while listening to this.