Kerry Knerr Investigates a ‘Troubling Paradise: Tiki Bars and American Imperial Imaginaries’

Program Description

In 1934 the first tiki bar opened its doors at 1727 N McCadden Place, just two blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard. The Beachcomber Cafe, later and more famously known as Don the Beachcomber, became the iconic example of a uniquely American establishment: the tiki bar. While that bar is closely associated with its proprietor and namesake, Donn Beach, a close examination of the historical records shows that the restaurant was primarily run by Beach’s ex-wife, Sunny Sund, and the head bartender, Ray Buhen.

Through the interwoven stories of a tall-talking Texan, a Minnesotan ex-schoolmarm, and a Filipino immigrant bartender, the true story of the first tiki bar shows a much more complicated and cosmopolitan story of American dining culture.

Dr. Kerry Knerr is a cultural historian of cocktails and of U.S. empire. Her work focuses on the material relationship between popular and imperial cultures. She currently teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a recipient of a 2019 CHNY Scholars’ Grant.