Island Cafe, Coronado

The Island Cafe (1937-1944), was Coronado’s first pre-tiki restaurant and bar. A popular little restaurant that was bought by John Douglas Jacks and remodeled in 1938 into a Hawaiian-themed restaurant and bar, the Island Cafe was located on the island just within eyesight of the Hotel del Coronado.

Jacks ran Bay City Cafe in Chula Vista for years until he was found guilty in a tainted liquor trial. After that in 1938, he and his family relocated to the island of Coronado, buying the Island Cafe.

With the help of friends, the Jacks converted their cafe into a tropical oasis… using ‘native spears, blades, swords and guns…’ Coco palms. Bamboo. Indirect colored lights that softly changed every six minutes. Murals by local San Diego artist Russell Dale Moffett (murals in Sherman’s, Paris Inn, Eddie’s Cafe, Tropic Cafe, Mexican Village and Hillcrest Bowl). The New Island Cafe formally opened Saturday June 28, 1938. For live entertainment they had a Hawaiian duo — no doubt playing Owens and Kinney’s 1936 hit ‘Hawaiian Hospitality.’ And served up exotic okolehao (Hawaiian moonshine) and rum drinks!

“The front entry to the Island is through a bamboo and thatch doorway, flanked on each side by brightly decorated windows on which tropical plants are painted. The interior of the Island is typically South Seas in its fittings and provides a cool comfort to patrons which is immediately appreciated…

“From the booths along one side of the cafe the lighted murals are particularly attractive, being arranged in such a manner that they give the illusion of island distances and panoramas.

“Special changing lights add to the interesting atmosphere of the Island, and the punkah fans overhead heighten the tropic feel of the cafe and assure an even, cool temperature…”

Island Cafe Zambi Rum Bar

Zambi Rum Bar opens at the Island Cafe, newspaper ad, 1940.

By 1940, they opened the Zambi Rum Bar under direction of bartender Alex Reed.

Earlier on, the Jacks’ son got a job at Consolidated Aircraft assembling fighter wings, later he worked for the phone company. Maybe it was the sight military aircraft continually flying around the island that impressed the young Douglas Arthur Jacks. When the war broke out, he enlisted in the Air Force. During the war as a pilot he served with distinction, completing over 60 missions and earning a Purple Heart.

By 1942, the Jacks sold their restaurant to Jimmie Calvert and Dr A.A. Auriado, but still owned the Mill Cafe at First and Orange.

The Jacks’ son married in March 1944 in Florida. Four months later, his plane went missing during the battle for Normandie, France. It took the family until 1948 to repatriate his remains to San Diego. By then his parents had sold the business, split up, remarried, and separately moved to Arcadia, California and Florida.

The Island Cafe continued on, but not with haunting Hawaiian melodies, but with the hip electric organ vibes of Danny Topaz (Valle’s), Roy Elliott (The Cotton Patch) and Scott Kincaid (Beachcomber).

Island Cafe 1950s

Center, Island Cafe in the 1950s

During the 1950s, The Island Cafe was a local center for jazz music. Then Mulvaney’s for years, Cecil’s, and now [2016], Costa Azul.

1031 Orange Avenue
Coronado, CA 92118