Pro-Filipino Business, But Really?

This article is great.

Long-simmered Filipino soup, charcoal-grilled pork and wild cocktails at re-imagined Auntie’s in Norfolk

A nice in-depth write-up on the Filipino restaurant and bar. But this quote is just dead wrong:

And then, of course, there will be the cocktails. Braza plans to double down on the Filipino roots of tiki drinks, pulling from the long history of tiki that goes back to the legendary Ray Buhen of Tiki-Ti, arguably a more important force for cocktail invention than Don the Beachcomber’s owner ever was.

Really? I wish I knew if this was the view of the writer or of Doddie Braza. Regardless I thought I should respond.

If not for Donn Beach and his invention of a completely new and very, very popular (read, “90 years later this guy just opened a place copying Donn Beach recipes”) cocktail genre, the Tiki Ti wouldn’t exist and we might never have known the name Ray Buhen. Add to that the names Trader Vic’s, Mai-Kai, et al.

There simply would not be a Tiki cocktail or Tiki bar without Donn.

Certainly there came a point when the Filipino bartenders Donn trained were more in charge than Donn. Once he opened his place in Waikiki, it was a focus and traveling to Hollywood or Chicago to manage the bar was not his priority (though he still did those things on a regular basis as owner Sunny Sund needed him.)

Some cocktails seem to have been created by “The Boys” as they were known. That term was used for all the bartenders, not just some first group in Hollywood. Becoming a bartender at Don the Beachcomber meant becoming one of “The Boys”. I’d say they really flexed their muscles at Steve Crane’s Luau in Beverly Hills. Sunny loved Steve and helped design the whole place including giving recipes and bartenders to start him out. Those recipes made for the Luau improved on many of Donn’s originals, i.e. the Jet Pilot.

But the originals were made by Donn Beach himself. That is not open to question.

And “more important force for cocktail invention than Don the Beachcomber’s owner ever was” is utterly laughable. It is a simple sentence in a Jeff Berry presentation that fans of the Tiki Ti have taken and run with out of all proportion. By one statement by one person, people have decided that Donn Beach did nothing, it was all the work of the Filipinos. Even worse, this is accusing Donn of stealing these recipes and making an empire based on that theft. This is foolishness. And I doubt you’d have heard it from other Don the Beachcomber bartenders. It’s a slander.

I have first hand accounts of Donn creating the Zombie in the back of 1722 McCadden Place. Did the Filipinos know rums by traveling to the Caribbean as Donn did? Did they know about falernum and allspice dram which Donn knew from those same islands? The original Filipino at Don’s, Pops Julian, are we supposing he did all this and came up with everything? He told Donn to source all the syrups and juices and rums? And all the other bartenders kept it silent for the decades that followed? Just what is this conspiracy that is imagined by way of one statement by one bartender in a context we can’t be sure of?

Donn Beach was loved by the bartenders. He gave many of them careers. Certainly those who worked for him for decades like Mariano Licudine, a 16 year veteran, but then Mariano took a high paying job at the Mai-Kai, where he worked the rest of his life, based on the recipes Donn let him have as a bartender. Leon Lontoc, Ray Buhen, all of the names we know, we know because Donn gave them the keys, the recipes. They used those to venture out on their own and make a living. And for decades they kept those recipes secret out of respect for the man who trusted them with his secrets.

I wish Mr. Braza luck and salute his Filipino pride, but let’s not rewrite history so easily.

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