Throwback Thursday: Umbrella Tiki Drinks

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
March 13, 2014

Vintage postcard from the original Don the Beachcomber / Photo courtesy TikiRoom

Happy National Open an Umbrella Indoors Day!

Yes, this weird little micro-holiday was the brainchild of one Thomas Edward Knibb, who established it in 2003. Knibb was reportedly not a superstitious type and wanted to encourage folks to observe the lack of consequences when they opened umbrellas in the safety of their own homes. 

We’ll take our chances today on the tiniest of scales with a little paper umbrella, perched on the rim of a drink. Whether it’s a Blue Hawaiian, a Scorpion Bowl, or a classic Mai Tai, the tropical tiki cocktail has a long history in this country, and it has never really fallen out of style since enjoying a renaissance after World War II. (At San Francisco tiki hotspot Smuggler’s Cove, there are 75 rum drinks alone!)

The history of tiki drinks in America is a tad convoluted: There’s some controversy as to whether Victor Bergeron invented the Mai Tai at his now-global tiki chain Trader Vic’s, where in 1944 he mixed rum with fresh lime juice, orange Curaçao, French orgeat (almond syrup) and a splash of sugary syrup, or whether credit goes to Ernest Gannt at Los Angeles watering hole Don the Beachcomber, which claims the title of the world’s first tiki bar, in 1933.

Photo credit: StockFood

As for the adorable (and unlucky) umbrella itself? Vic’s told the Straight Dope that they picked that up from Don’s, who in turn probably picked it up from local Chinese-American restaurants.

Whoever’s responsible for the Mai Tai, tiki drinks in general, and adorably cheeseball cocktail umbrellas everywhere, you have our gratitude. We’ll wait to indulge in full-sized umbrellas till we have weather like this fair lass is enjoying along with her drink…

Photo credit: eBay

… and in the meantime, we’ll be trying this good-looking recipe, a modern, drier twist on the original, and courtesy of Imbibe Magazine and Portland, Oregon bar Hale Pele.

Careful out there, people. Open these tiny umbrellas one drink at a time.

Hale Pele’s Mai Tai

Adapted from Imbibe Magazine and Hale Pele

Makes 1

1 ½ oz Jamaican rum
½ oz overproof Jamaican rum
¾ oz orgeat
¾ oz fresh lime juice (reserve rind) 
½ oz dry curacao
Tools: shaker tin
Glass: double rocks
Garnish: mint sprig

1. Add all ingredients, along with reserved lime and 8 ounces of crushed ice, to a shaker tin. Shake until the shaker is frosted and pour into a glass. Top with additional crushed ice to fill the glass, and garnish.