A small paper umbrella is placed in the cocktail glasses at many tiki bars. The “cocktail umbrella” is sometimes credited to the Polynesian-themed restaurants of Trader Vic’s or Don the Beachcomber.
Honolulu bartender Harry Yee claims to have invented the cocktail umbrella in 1959. Yee invented the Blue Hawaii cocktail (rum, pineapple juice, Curaçao, and sweet and sour mix) at Hilton Hawaiian Village, and a cocktail umbrella was added to each drink.
The cocktail umbrella is mostly for decoration, but it also shades the ice cubes from the sun to keep the drink cool. The term “cocktail umbrella” (an umbrella to take to a cocktail party) was first used by the shop Henri de la Pensee in New York CIty in 1952.
Wikipedia: Cocktail umbrella
A cocktail umbrella is a small umbrella or parasol made from paper, paperboard, and a toothpick, used as a garnish or decoration in cocktails, desserts or other food and beverages.
The cocktail umbrella is believed to have arrived on the bar scene as early as 1932 courtesy of Victor Bergeron of Trader Vic’s in San Francisco although it is, by Vic’s own admission, a presentation picked up from Don the Beachcomber (now closed). Upon introduction, umbrellas were considered very exotic as were most things from the Pacific Rim.
25 November 1952, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, pg. 23, col. 7:
Make For Romance
By Phyllis Battelle
INS Women’s Editor
NEW YORK—INS—If romances in the rain are to continue being a popular conception, women are going to have to develop more drama in a drizzle.
Working on this theory, Henri de la Pensee—one of New York’s swankiest little shopped—today introduced cocktail umbrellas as sparkling as raindrops clinging to a street lamp.
The umbrellas, which come wrapped in French silk and a $45 price tag, have suede handles. The suede handles are well coated with well-cut rhinestones.
14 July 1957, Sunday World-Herald (Omaha, NE), pg. 2-E, cols. 4-5:
For Keeping Dry?
New York (UP)—Now it’s the cocktail umbrella, joining the cocktail dress in fashion phraseology. These umbrellas get pretty fancy with jewel decorated knobs and tips.
Harry Yee, King of Tropical Cocktails
by Rick Carroll
With orchids, parasols and names like “Missionary’s Downfall,” the exotic drinks of Hawaii are the most unusual in the world. One man, Harry K. Yee, created 15 of them, including the Blue Hawaii, the Banana Daiquiri and Tropical Itch. He mixed ‘em and named ‘em, usually after one sip.
The dean of Honolulu bartenders also:
. Put the first Vanda orchid in a drink in 1955.
. Dropped a Chinese back scratcher in a Tropical Itch in 1957, to create a hit drink and cottage industry in back scratchers.
. Popped a tiny parasol in a Tapa Punch in 1959; the drink faded but the umbrella lives on.
5:41 PM / MARCH 21, 2014
The Exciting History and Origin of the Cocktail Umbrella
WRITTEN BY ROCHELLE BILOW
A classic tiki cocktail is a thing of beauty: Syrupy sweet with plenty of rum and enough fruit to almost classify it as healthy. (Hey, we said almost.) But perhaps the best part of all is the presentation: a giant coconut (bonus points if it’s real), a snazzy swizzle stick (if you’re lucky), and, of course, a cocktail umbrella. We love this little parasol so much that we wanted to learn more about it: Where did it come from? Does it actually serve a purpose? Why do we all love it so?
After all this history and folklore, who was the first person to actually put an umbrella in a cocktail? Jeff Berry, tiki drink historian and author of six books on the subject, has the answer: “A bartender named Harry Yee at the Hilton Waikiki was the first. He used to garnish his cocktails with a stick of sugarcane, but that was at the time that everybody was still smoking cigarettes. After they chewed on the sugarcane, they’d set it in the ashtrays, and he would have to scrub them clean. So he came up with something new.”
Yee first used an orchid in his garnishes, but the umbrella is what really took off: “People really do call tiki cocktails ‘umbrella drinks’ now,” says Berry. The first cocktail to get an umbrella was the tapa punch, in 1959, according to an article written by journalist Rick Carroll in 1998. So why were those little umbrellas hanging around? Berry surmises they were used as toothpicks and garnishes for food—or, possibly, “people put them in their hats!”