April is Tiki Month on our channel and you need to be prepared. Let’s learn a bit of tiki drink history around Donn Beach, Trader Vic and Mariano Licudine. 3 Key players in Tiki Pop Culture.
It all started with Ernest Beaumont Gantt who opened a bar in 1933 called after prohibition was repealed. He called it Donn The Beachcomber, it was a small bar in the corner of a hotel. He created potent rum drinks, people liked them. Three years later him and his GF raised enough money to open their own place. Earnest Gantt eventually changed his legal name to his restaurant name, Donn Beach.
Donn beach filled his bar with bamboo barstools, fishing nets, umbrellas and anything he found that reminded him of traveling around the Polynesian islands. The thing was… you wouldn’t ever find this stuff in a restaurant IN an polynesian island. Each of these items were simply things that reminded him of being in the islands…but later hollywood stars and other famous personalities would visit to be able to disconnect from reality.
Donn installed a sprinkler system on the roof of the bar tin so that people would think it was raining and would stay for another drink. Yeah, he knew what he was doing. Sure, without knowing it he started a faux polynesian restaurant theme that actually had nothing really to do with Hawaii or any polynesian islands
Tiki Cocktails we remember: Navy Grog, Tahitian Rum Punch, Cobra’s Fang, Three Dots and a Dash, and…the Zombie.
A big competitor Victor Bergeron (best known as Trader Vic) adopted a lot of what he saw happening with Donn Beach in a restaurant he started called Hinky Dinks (later called Trader Vics). I felt he could “do better” than what Donn Beach was doing at the time.
Around 1952 Trader Vic was serving one of his cocktails in a tiki bowl, one of the first of its kind no doubt.
Trader Vic was known as a “trader” because he’d give people drinks or food “on the house” for cool kitsh nautical and island themed stuff. That might be a lobster net, or an easter island statue, whatever worked for the bar.
Trader Vic contributed much to tiki cocktails. For instance, Dr. Funk, El Diablo (supposedly) Scorpion, Fog Cutter and of course the Trader Vic Mai Tai.
Mariano Licudine (1907-1980): Mai Kai, #2 barman for Donn Beach.
Mariano was born in the Philippines, one of 14 children and did odd jobs to get by, until he ended up at Donn Beachcombers restaurant. He worked under him for 16 years, making it to the #2 bartender at the establishment, but always was in the kitchen hiding in the shadows, making drinks and prepping but always under the rules of Donn Beach.
The Thornton brothers invested hundreds of thousands to build Mai Kai in Florida, they needed a good head bartender and chef. They poached both from Donn Beach and allowed them to grow. Here, Mariano was able to set the menu his way. He took prototype recipes he designed (but could never use at Donn’s place) alongside taking all the Donn recipes and re-branding them (Pearl Diver became Deep Sea Diver, etc.) and build his own recipes.
Mariano built a 48 recipe tiki menu for Mai Kai and put their restaurant on the map. He became a celebrity bartender in his time and set the stage for the restaurant that still is in operation today.
You’ll find a few great Mai Kai recipes out there that no doubt were directly created or influenced by Mariano such as the Barrel O’ Rum, Oh So Deadly, Cobra Kiss (Cobra’s Fang via Donn Beach), Tahitian Breeze and many many others.
#tiki #cocktails #history
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