Could your next event really be saved by a pineapple?

“In 14 hundred and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Few of us can have escaped the school system without having the date of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America etched into our brains.

However, it came as news to me this week that in 1493 the erstwhile explorer was also the first European to encounter a pineapple, while on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

He duly brought the pineapple back home, where it became a huge hit – and thanks to the fruit’s scarcity and novelty value, pineapples were soon attracting huge price tags the world over.

By the 1700s it became the fashion to display a whole pineapple at social gatherings, as a sign that no expense was being spared in guaranteeing your guests’ enjoyment. It was in this way that the pineapple came to mean welcome and friendship – and became the international symbol of hospitality.

The fruit achieved royal assent from none other than the Prince Regent when he made a ten and a half pound pineapple the centre of his coronation banquet – the most lavish in British history – in 1821. And given the prince’s well-documented love of entertaining, it’s no surprise that pineapples festoon the walls of his pleasure palace by the sea, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion.

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International symbol of hospitality

Indeed, houses, hotels and pubs would often incorporate a pineapple motif on the outside to show how friendly they were on the inside (once you start looking, you’ll see them everywhere).

Sadly, the pineapple’s star soon faded and its hospitality symbolism has been long forgotten. These days the fruit is more famed for its appearances in the terminally naff pina colada or the much-maligned Hawaiian pizza.

However, drawing on all of this history, down in Brighton the pineapple is staging a comeback. The Brighton Grand’s Victoria Bar has unleashed a signature cocktail called the Columbus 1493 (pictured), a mix of rum, pineapple juice, peach, lime and vanilla – all served in an upturned copper pineapple. The finishing touch is the liquid nitrogen poured over at the table, sending plumes of smoke billowing out across the bar, and somewhat inevitably resulting in dozens of the cocktails being ordered by the surrounding drinkers.

It was while enjoying a Columbus 1493 in the Grand’s Terrace Bar, overlooking the sea and the ruined West Pier, that I realised how much the cocktail sums up Brighton’s appeal as a destination – history, fun and expertise, all rolled into one. And it also made me think that the event industry ought to resurrect the pineapple as a symbol of hospitality. All that hospitality heritage is bound to rub off on any planner who plonks a pineapple in the middle of their next event.

Although admittedly, that may have been the rum talking…

For more on the latest meetings and events updates from Brighton, check out the destination feature in the January issue of M&IT.