Harry Yee

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Harry K. Yee (born September 26, 1918) is a former bartender from Honolulu, Hawaii who is credited with having helped to spread tiki culture during the mid-twentieth century, both in Hawaii and in the continental United States. He invented the Blue Hawaii cocktail, and is attributed with being the first bartender to use paper parasols and Vanda Orchids in tiki drinks. In 2018, Yee celebrated his 100th birthday.[1]

Biography[edit]

Born in 1918, Yee began bartending in 1952, before the advent of jet airliners and seven years before Hawaiian statehood. He soon joined Henry Kaiser's Hawaiian Village Hotel, where he served as head bartender for more than thirty years.[2] Along with Ernest Gantt ("Donn Beach") and Victor Jules Bergeron ("Trader Vic"), Yee did much to popularize a faux version of the tropics consisting of rum drinks, hula girls, and tourism. Yee's time at the bar spanned statehood and the rise of Hawaii as a major international travel and retirement destination. When he began, Hawaii hosted approximately 100,000 visitors per year, mostly around Waikiki. By the time he retired tourism exceeded five million visitors, compared to seven million today.[3]

His many innovations were an attempt to create a sense of locale for his tourist customers. When they asked for Hawaiian drinks, he had nothing to offer because there was no such thing, so he invented them and often coined names on the spot. Yee is attributed with being the first bartender to use paper parasols and Vanda Orchids in tiki drinks. In an interview on the subject Yee said "We used to use a sugar cane stick [garnishes], and people would chew on the stick, then put it in the ashtray. When the ashes and cane stuck together it made a real mess, so I put orchids in the drink to make the ashtrays easier to clean. I wasn't thinking about romance."[4]

At times during his career he was a teetotaler who relied on his customers for feedback on his drinks. He does not drink rum, and instead prefers cognac. After retiring he taught for several years at the Bartending Training Institute in Honolulu.[2]

Cocktail innovations[edit]

During his more than thirty years of bartending in Waikiki, Yee is attributed with inventing many cocktails, including:

As is common with Tiki drinks, not all drink invention attributions go unchallenged. Some credit other bartenders with having invented the Banana Daiquiri and the Hawaiian Eye cocktail.[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cocktail contest commemorates Blue Hawaii creator's birthday
  2. ^ a b c d e f Rick Carroll. "Harry Yee, King of Tropical Cocktails". kevdo.com. Retrieved 2007-07-03.
  3. ^ "Hawaiian History". Frommers. Retrieved 2007-07-03.
  4. ^ Berry, Jeff (2017). Sippin' Safari (10 Anniversary expanded ed.). New York: Cocktail Kingdom.
  5. ^ Lance Tominaga. "Tropical drinks, part of the Hawaiian experience". alohahawaii.com. Retrieved 2007-07-03.
  6. ^ Berry, Jeff (2017). Sippin' Safari (10 Anniversary expanded ed.). New York: Cocktail Kingdom.
  7. ^ Berry, Jeff (2017). Sippin' Safari (10 Anniversary expanded ed.). New York: Cocktail Kingdom.
  8. ^ Thompson, Jennifer (2002). The Great Tiki Drink Book. Berkley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
  9. ^ Berry, Jeff (2010). Beachbum Berry Remixed. Club Tiki Press.