Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated…no I LOVED those little mini umbrellas that go on top of fancy drinks. Not that I had fancy drinks. But one time I went to a little birthday party at a neighbor’s house and the mom and grandma put little mini umbrellas on top of our ice cream sodas. I was amazed! I had never seen such a thing. I was four years old. I’ll never forget it.
The mini umbrellas have Tiki roots. Well, Don the Beachcomber roots. When Don the Beachcomber traveled the world, he brought back his loves to California; exotic locales and booze. He was quoted as saying, “If you cannot go to paradise, I will bring it to you.”
His cocktails had all kinds of decorations, but why the umbrella? As it turns out these little colorful parasols may have served more of a purpose than just to attract the ladies to the Tiki bars. After all, what purpose does an umbrella serve in the sun? To keep the user cool and to offer shade. Now why wouldn’t that work for a drink as well?
As it turns out, drinks don’t actually sit around long enough to get warm, but the original idea of the umbrella did serve a double purpose. It was shade for the drink and a colorful pop from the umbrella!
Who Makes Those Umbrellas and Who Really First Used the Mini Umbrella?
They are made in China. And, according to historian, Jeff Berry, who has written six books about the Tiki culture, the first person to actually use these little umbrellas was Harry Yee at the Hilton Waikiki. Mr. Yee first used a sugar cane to garnish his cocktails and then when that wasn’t working out, he tried an orchid. However, it was his use of the mini umbrella that became the signature of the drink. People even called the drinks, “umbrella drinks.”
In fact, the first drink to get an umbrella was in 1959. So, back to my story of the birthday party when I was four. That was in 1962. Thinking back this little girl’s mom and grandma were really on the cutting edge of ice cream soda toppers! Wow! I may have been among the first four-year old’s in the United States to enjoy those mini umbrellas. And I love them still!
We cannot talk about the little umbrellas without progressing into some of the wackiest new toppers for drinks and yes, ice cream sodas today. Starting out is the famous flamingo, then comes the mustache straw, the bamboo knot, the plastic sword, the pirate flag, a sparkly pom-pom, clowns (if you like clowns), LED animals, and plastic monkeys, All of these are available on Amazon or other websites that sell food products.
It’s fun to decorate for any types of drinks. I think it may be time to introduce my grandkids to the wonderful mini umbrellas. There is nothing like a brightly colored umbrella in an ice cream soda or a root beer float. Maybe it’s also time for a plastic monkey or a sparkly pom-pom?