The Story of Cocktail Umbrellas

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The umbrella is believed to have arrived on the tiki bar scene as early as 1932, courtesy Victor J. Bergeron, the irascible one-legged founder of Trader Vic’s in San Francisco. Trader Vic’s is a large San Francisco-based chain of Polynesian-style restaurants. Vic’s served drinks with umbrellas up until the early 1940s, informs Prof. Ashoka, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

A cocktail umbrella is a small umbrella or parasol made from paper, paperboard, and a toothpick and is used as a garnish or decoration in cocktails, desserts, or other food and drinks. The umbrella is fashioned out of paper and can be patterned with cardboard ribs. The ribs are made from cardboard in order to provide flexibility with hinges so that the umbrella can be pulled shut much like an ordinary umbrella. A small plastic retaining ring is often fashioned against the stem, usually a toothpick, in order to prevent the umbrella from folding up spontaneously.

There is a sleeve of folded newspaper under the collar to act as a spacer. This newspaper is usually in either Japanese, Chinese, or an Indian language, hinting at the umbrella’s origin. In fact, have become a key element in the cult of the Tiki.

The Tiki cult involves an appreciation of the tiki bar, also known as a Polynesian bar. This bar specialises in island decor, exotic cuisine, and tropical drinks topped with cocktail parasols and other fancy paraphernalia. The tiki joint has played a pivotal if unappreciated role in Western culture for more than 60 years. But prior to their use in tiki bars, it is believed that cocktail umbrellas were available in Chinese restaurants indicating that the parasol, or at least the idea of putting it in a drink, was a Chinese-American invention. It is possible that they were originally designed to shield ice cubes within drinks from the sun. However, efforts to confirm these theories with Chinese and Chinese-American firms selling the umbrellas today were unsuccessful.

The cocktail umbrella is believed to have arrived on the tiki bar scene as early as 1932, courtesy Victor J. Bergeron, the irascible one-legged founder of Trader Vic’s in San Francisco. Trader Vic’s is a large San Francisco-based chain of Polynesian-style restaurants. Vic’s served drinks with cocktail umbrellas up until the early 1940s, when importation of the little parasols from factories in the Far East was halted by the outbreak of World War II.

However, by Bergeron’s own admission, he had originally picked up the idea from the Don the Beachcomber restaurant chain (now closed), which pioneered Polynesian-style dining in the United States. Upon introduction, umbrellas were considered very exotic, as were most things from the Pacific Rim. Incidentally, Bergeron also invented several rum-flavoured drinks that became world famous. They had such names as Missionary’s Revenge, Sufferin’ Bastard, and Mai Tai, meaning the very best in Tahitian.

©Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Photos from the Internet

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Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the ‘most educationally qualified in the world’.