Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Goodbye, Don the Beachcomber

1960s view of Sam's Seafood (now Don the Beachcomber)
Word is out that Don the Beachcombers in Sunset Beach is closing soon. Don’s owners would like to keep the business running as long as they can (perhaps until the landlord shoos them out or they run out of food and drink?). and they are looking for another location in which to reopen. It's not the restaurant owners, but rather the folks who own the land UNDER Don’s who want to replace it with something else. I understand the rent has been raised astronomically. Some years ago, the landowners wanted to replace the restaurant with condos, but couldn't get the zoning changed. Today it's still zoned for "Commercial Visitor," which I suppose could be a hotel or new restaurant buildings.


Proprietor Delia Snyder told the O.C. Register, "We are not closing." However, the bands that were scheduled throughout April have been told to find other accommodations, some of the decor has already been taken down, and no upcoming Tiki Makeke event has been announced. And the bartenders (according the Register) are telling customers that Don's will close soon. (Read more about the conflicting reports in Los Angeles Magazine.)

In a visit on 3/28/2018, I couldn't help but notice that they'd run out of ingredients for about a third of the items they normally serve, which tells me they may not be re-ordering food and certain drink mixers. I also noticed that they were woefully understaffed. (The few that were left were really getting a workout.) Meanwhile, at the Karaoke Night event in the bar, some young lady was belting out Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" to an understanding and cheering crowd:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot


Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

In the main dining room
Don’s is one of the last Tiki palaces in America -- A rare original remnant of a cultural phenomenon that once spanned the nation. As Sam's Seafood (which recast their 1940s restaurant building into a Tiki paradise in the 1960s) it was a popular dining spot and a key landmark on Pacific Coast Highway. In more recent years, it was home base for the Southern California Tiki revival, it brought the historic Don the Beachcomber brand back to the mainland, it preserved the best of the historic Sam’s Seafood, it hosted stellar Tiki swapmeets, and it served as one of Orange County’s most notable music venues.
Old matchbook cover
A visit to Don’s was a delightful trip into the heyday of Tiki. One can build a new Tiki bar, but you can’t “make” a new historic site. I don’t know specifically who the owners are who decided to jack up the restaurant’s rent so outrageously that no tenant could stay and survive. I only hope they have a really, really good excuse. It would have to be a doozy to justify this loss.
Modern view of Don's entrance
At some point I'll write up a full history of Sam's Seafood and the Huntington Beach incarnation of Don the Beachcomber. I have a large collection of notes and research for just that task already stockpiled for that purpose. But for now -- with this terrible moment upon us, I thought I would at least share a scattered few images of the place and its history.
Duke Kahanamoku with the Katsaris boys at Sam's Seafood, 1960s. (Photo courtesy Gary Katsaris)
UPDATE: As of the evening of 4-2-2018, Don's is still serving customers. The rumor now is that they're going to stay open as long as they can, which may be as much as a couple weeks. Come on down.
Interior view at Sam's Seafood. (Photo by author)

Dinner with Don the Beachcomber owner/reviver Art Snyder and friends

The Ding Dong Devils play the Dagger Bar in 2016.

Me, speaking at the Orange County Historical Society's annual dinner at Don's.
 For more photos, see my Flickr account.
Tiki Makeke swapmeet, Jan. 2018 (Photo by author)

54 comments:

  1. So sad to see it go. I know the music is moving to Santa Ana but the building is iconic.

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  2. Never been, but my Tiki spirit is crushed. Again.

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  3. Heartbroken to see it go, thank you for the mini memorial. So disappointing to know that the almighty dollar wins again... We loose historic and irreplaceable in favor of homogenization.

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  4. Oh no tell me it's not so! I loved the Tiki Era's and all the memories I have, just hate to see this landmark go!

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  5. Aw my cousin got married there not too long ago. It was so much fun!

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  6. We In SoCal who live by Don's are devastated by this.There goes a piece of our culture at the hands of developers

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  7. So, so sad. California is lost forever. Not only because of wonderful places like this, disappearing, but the entire state as a whole. Taxes are vulgar, politicians have raped the state, there is very little honor among most of the people, crime is beyond alarming and ther is no end in sight. Too bad because when Reagan was governor, California was the third largest economy IN THE WORLD! Now, it's a stink hole. What a travesty.

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    1. Boy you nailed it head.
      I feel like everything I grew up with is gone.

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    2. "Surf City" is just expanding....and the little guys get mowed down by the greed.

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    3. ?california presently considered 6th largest economy in the world.

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    4. Couldn't of said it better myself. Totally sucks. Not cool

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  8. I've hosted karaoke there for past 5 years! I also hate to see it go! The word is through April!

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  9. It's certain to be replaced by a bland building where restaurants come and go. Stale places where pasty techies can hunker over their tablets.

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    1. it will probably be high density condos... just like everything else they tear down in OC>

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  10. When is "End of the week" for doors closing. That can mean Fri Sat or Sun

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  11. Sadly, the "Invisible Hand" of the economy strikes again; just as it took down Tower Records and ToysRUs. Unfortunate, but don't blame the landowner who is simply doing what all of us do - maximize our money and minimize our losses. An inconvenient truth!

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    1. Some of us DON'T grab for a larger pile of money if it conflicts with doing the right thing. Not everyone is amoral. Just sayin'.

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    2. Very true, Chris. I own a light manufacturing company. My competitors buy all their components from China to maximize profits. I choose to make a better product, sourcing everything from the US. I stay profitable despite paying as much as 10 times the cost for certain components. Precious few seem to notice but I sleep well at night.

      I wish there was a fast track to landmark status for this place, I've really enjoyed it.

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    3. Good for you, Kevin! Nice to hear from someone who still "gets it." As for landmark status,... Landmarks get bulldozed every day! Even National Register buildings are not immune.

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  12. Have to make way for progress. In this case, most probably the progress of more illegal aliens, er, residents, anticipated to flock to live the good life in sanctuary state California, and on the beach in Southern California to boot. CondominiumsRUs these days, doncha know. Roll up, roll up. We take EBT cards.

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    1. Huh? How would undocumented residents be able to afford new seaside condominiums?

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    2. I hope "Stan" does not represent the Tiki world. (I'm sure he does not.) As if development were to serve "illegals"! Nope, the hard-working immigrants in California keep this place going. (Just look around you!) I hate racism.

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    3. Nope.Real California was built by multiple cultures happy to share the love of the surf, their culture, and their families. And make you take some oranges/strawberries/tacos home with you. It's these crazy imports who lock up their gates, tell you what color to paint your house and who can visit it that need leave. It's still Mi Casa es su Casa round here.

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  13. My Mother and Grandmother both worked there for years during the 60's. Sad to see it go. :(

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  14. Sad to hear it's closing. My wife & I got married at Sams in 1996 & have great memories of our special day there. Our friends got married there as well...

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  15. ?? Moving a Tiki Life to ?? Santa Ana?? There will never be anything Tiki in Santa Ana. I wish someone with money, style, and a sense of history would take the interior decorations and fins a new place to remake this classic bar and nightclub in a new location. More destroyed SoCal history to be replaced by beige condos with generic restaurants and people who just text on the phone all day long.

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    1. Sadly, it's the sense of history that developers and Millenials will completely blow off.

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    2. Agreed. History is history. I’d love to see Don’s reopen somewhere, someday, but it’s the historic vibe that really makes it such a destination.

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    3. One of the great Tiki palaces of Orange County was the Kono Hawaii in Santa Ana.

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  16. Here's your new location. you're welcome
    https://temdev.com/2018/03/27/landrys-closing-claim-jumper-restaurant-in-temecula/

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  17. Is there nothing to be done? No one to contact? I do think it’s sad that as a tourist destination we have so little to show that is destinctive to Southern California

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  18. very sad as iwanted to visit that place on my travels to california friends out there have such stories of it and wanted to see for my self. very sad.

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  19. I'm just a Huntington Beach native now transplanted to Minnesota. I can't say much that will add, but, as the finer, older things move on to make room for the blander, newer things, I am so, so sad. Particularly to lose the music venue...

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  20. Finally, I wonder why Disney (or someone like them) doesn't come in and do the right thing here.

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    1. Well Disney has their own called Trader Sams. And because then someone would want something in return. No way that property owner is going to sell his land. Thats the only way Dons could have full control and not be subject to rediculous rent hikes. That location is a gold mine and Dons is in the way. People suck and foreign investors dont give a crap about what little culture we have. Hell we dont even care we sell it out at the highest bidder

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  21. We do need more frozen yogurt shops, yoga studios, hair salons, nail shops, dry cleaners, and massage parlors in town.

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  22. Move! Don’t bitch!!! I don’t like a lot of things but it’s a big world out there with much to offer. As far as the restaurant being scrapped it’s a shame and the future development will be much of the SOS.

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  23. So sad!!! This was a place that me and my family would go to for "special occasions", once in a while!!! It had GREAT atmosphere and good food...So sorry to hear that it's going away :(

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  24. Lame �� reply. Most people in Orange County can barely afford where they live, how do you expect immigrants who are making minimum-wage or less To make those kinds of payments.

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  25. This is where my mom met my dad when he was a bartender - sadness! 😭

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  26. The property owner raised the rent triple to get rid of the tenant Don the Beachcomber..the business was doing too good and packing the place..the property owners were upset in the resurgence of 'tiki' which flocked people to this historic location...the bands and events were off the scales.. They want to build a high density development which will connect to a new development at Peters Landing eventually..they will probably tear down Dons and leave a dirt lot there for years..their grand scheme will not make them much money for years from now and another high density mall is going up in Long Beach just down the street on PCH and 2nd St... this is a travesty..our history is slowly completely erased..Why is it that you can visit a country like France and there are historic buildings still there for 500 years...we can't even keep cool places for 50 years..ridiculous

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  27. santa ana is hardly the place for a Hawaiian, Tiki, beach themed restaurant/music venue

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  28. dons is not the last tiki palace in america

    http://maikai.com/ is the epitome of a tiki palace

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  29. Rumor is they are moving to new location

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  30. Looks like they are still open. Saw them post about happy hour all day Monday!

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  31. Please see www.StellarShows.net for all our upcoming concerts, including Tikiyaki 5-0 w/ Hula Girls on May 12 at the new Broken Drum Bar in Long Beach.
    Also watch for a Charles Phoenix show at the Yost in September - Escape to Tiki Island
    We loved presenting shows at Don's and will continue to do so thruout SoCal, not only in Santa Ana.

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