That pretty little umbrella in your bar drink might seem like a fruity thing for a macho guy to quickly throw away. A cheap, meaningless little decoration. Nothing more than a frivolous garnish for your pina colada or mai tai. But it once served a more meaningful purpose.
Back in the early barroom days, hanging out at the neighborhood bar was pretty much a "guys only" activity. Okay, there were always saloon girls in the Old West, and cocktail waitresses did deliver drinks to the guys in the more affluent watering holes. And of course, in many bars, the occasional women of ill repute hovered the joint. But no "nice" or respectable women were ever seen at the corner bar.
What? Bars with no women? Where in the world were men able to use their cheesy pick-up lines?
Bartenders, being businessmen, must one day have realized that they had a business with a potential of serving 100% of adult customers and they were only patronized by 50%. Believe it or not, cocktail umbrellas help take care of that conundrum.
In the early 1930s, bartenders at swanky watering holes like Trader Vic's and Don the Beachcomber thought up a clever way to draw in the ladies. They concocted all sorts of fancy cocktails and garnished them with cute, colored paper sunshades.
A marketing ploy? Sure -but it worked! As the local bars became more "lady friendly," more lady patrons started showing up. By the 1950s and 1960s, exotic decorated drinks and Polynesian-themed restaurants and clubs became part of the whole tiki-culture craze. From that moment on, the ladies -and the umbrellas- were at the bar to stay.
There are plenty of guys who enjoy refreshing fruity umbrella drinks from time to time, too. In an effort to defend their manhood, they may come up with more "technical" reasons for covering their lava flows or zombies with colorful canopies. Some maintain that cocktail umbrellas shade their icy, frothy frappes from the melting effects of solar radiation. Other suggest that the cocktail umbrellas prevent volatile alcohol molecule in their drinks from evaporating too quickly.
Is this just a bunch of pure hogwash, or do cocktail umbrellas have a bit of science on their side? Perhaps a little bit of science -but it's more likely that these colorful umbrellas simply evoke a more sunny state of mind.
Come on, let's face it: every once in a while, we all need to ditch "reality" for that white sandy beach, where coconuts and pineapples and maraschino cherries are ingredients in flavorful libations that smell like suntan lotion -and somehow still taste really good.
Sorry, I don't drink, myself. Make mine a Coca-Cola with a root beer chaser.