Food News

Combing for Photos of Dallas'
Don the Beachcomber

Tiki history hobbyists -- a remarkably serious and disciplined group, considering its members like their drinks served in coconuts -- are on the hunt for photos of Dallas' Don the Beachcomber.

Open at the corner of Meadow Road and Greenville Avenue from 1974 to 1982, the Dallas outlet of the venerable tiki chain was notable for being the first Don the Beachcomber built in a "new look" design conceptualized by a Beverly Hills architectural firm. The Los Angeles Times described the restaurant as "a round form with a shelter that spans the entire 102-foot diameter and descends to within 2-feet of the ground. Architecturally, the form is reminiscent of a Polynesian hut floating above the landscape."

Within the hut, the restaurant hewed closely to the formula Donn Beach (born Ernest Gantt in Texas) developed at his Hollywood bar in the 1930s.

"The Polynesian atmosphere is accented by a stream, fed by a cascading waterfall, a rain forest, thatched roofs, fireflies flickering in palm trees and suspended outrigger canoes," the Times reported. A 1976 menu uncovered by a Tiki Central online forum contributor lists egg flower soup, beef manuu, king crab chungking and Cantonese pork among the Chinese-American style choices.

A Dallas Morning News critic -- who likened the building to "a great wooden mushroom" with flames spouting from its roof -- wrote in a 1979 review: "Service is excellent here, and although the Polynesian isn't the best I've ever tasted, it is respectable and served with imagination."

Yet all that remains of the restaurant is an oversized parking lot with a few asphalt backstops marked "Beachcomber only." Tiki Central members have dutifully photographed the fading signage, but are still searching for images of the restaurant in its heyday.

In addition to Don the Beachcomber and the recently shuttered Trader Vic's, Dallas was also once home to Ports O' Call, opened at the Sheraton in 1958, and the Hotel Adolphus' Hawaiian Century Room, where -- according to a 1944 industry magazine spread posted at -- "ingenious mechanical devices (made) it possible to produce real tropical thunderstorms."

Did you drink a Missionary's Downfall at Don's? Did you happen to take a picture? Tiki enthusiasts are standing -- or slumping -- by.

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Hanna Raskin
Contact: Hanna Raskin