Mix your best Mai Tai, pull out your ukulele, and take a seat. Now, if you want to live in a world where tiki bars were created in Polynesia by a Samoan named Tiki, SKIP AHEAD to our team recs below.
To those who are still with us: you’ve chosen wisely — the truth is way more interesting. The first tiki bar in the world, Don the Beachcomber, was created in Los Angeles in 1933 by a New Orleans native named Ernest Gantt. Gantt had done consulting work in Hollywood on shows and movies set in the South Pacific… jobs he got by lying and saying that he had lived there. (Maybe he created the term “fake it ‘til you make it” too?)
In designing Don the Beachcomber, Gantt focused on kitschy bamboo décor and a rum-based menu, since rum was the cheapest liquor around. Gantt’s drinks (a total of 84 cocktails) were revolutionary because they each had several ingredients at a time when most drinks had only two or three. Famous patrons poured in, including Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers.
Of course, behind every great lad is an even better woman. Gantt’s then-wife, Sunny Sund, took over the business when he was deployed for WWII (service for which he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, NDB). Sunny expanded Don The Beachcomber nationally, popularizing the tiki bar aesthetic around the country.
So there you have it. When some tiki bar trivia pops up on HQ, you won’t have to use that extra life. You’re welcome.
In honor of one of the best origin stories to come out of a Hollywood lie, we asked our crew about their favorite tiki spots… and what to drink and wear to the party.