The Margarita Mystery

The margarita is generally agreed to be the quintessential Mexican cocktail. However, the true origin and inventor of this world-famous drink has been widely debated since its inception. Although we all believe it to be of Mexican decent, the stories surrounding this elusive cocktail don’t all emerge from Mexican soil.

Dating back as far as the Prohibition Era, we can find traces of this elusive cocktail straddling both side of the borders. According to cocktail historian, David Wondrich, the margarita was created out of necessity. A cocktail called The Daisy, which was popular at the time and similar to the margarita but made with brandy, was reinvented as people drifted over the borders in search of alcohol. Tequila, a Mexican mainstay, was substituted for brandy and “Daisy” transformed into its Spanish form, as the “Margarita”.


The ongoing legend

That seems a believable enough story, but the legend of this famous cocktail doesn’t end there. Let’s take a stroll through the historical mysteries of this infamous concoction…

In the book, My New Cocktail Book, by G.F. Steele which came out in 1930, there appeared, in one of the first recorded publications, a tequila-based cocktail which was closely related to our modern-day margarita. However, it did not done the name of margarita.

Several years later, around 1936, the Syracuse Herald, reported upon a cocktail called the Tequila Daisy. However, there was no defined recipe, nor was there any mention of the inventor or origin of this concoction. Later that year, an Iowa newspaper editor James Graham was said to have stumbled upon the cocktail in Tijuana, which pre-dates most of the other creation myths, but is not substantiated.

In the year of 1937, the Café Royal Cocktail Book came out and included a recipe called the Picador. It used the same concentrations of tequila, triple sec and lime juice as the margarita. But again, did not use the name.

Now we arrive firmly on Mexican soil. In 1938 Carlos “Danny” Herrera, the owner of a restaurant between Tijuana and Rosarito called Rancho La Gloria, it said to have created the OG cocktail for a very special customer, and former Ziegfeld dancer, Marjorie King. It seems Marjorie was allergic to many spirits, but not to tequila, so the story goes that Herrera created the concoction especially for her.

And then of course, there’s the world renowned Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico, where another OG margarita claim is made. Apparently, the margarita was invented in October, 1941 by one of their bartenders, Don Carlos Orozco. They say that one afternoon, Margarita Henkel, the daughter of the current German Ambassador, visited the cantina as Don Carlos was experimenting with new drinks. He offered her one of his newest concoctions consisting of equal parts tequila, Naranja or Controy, and lime juice; shaken and served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. Supposedly she loved it so much, he named it in her honor and the margarita was born!

Claims in history

Staying on Mexican soil, we journey now to Juarez, across the border from El Paso Texas, to Tommy’s Place, where purportedly the first margarita was mixed on July 4, 1942 by Francisco “Pancho” Morales. Although Morales later left bartending and moved to the United States, Mexico’s official news agency, Notimex, believes he has the strongest claim to being the true inventor of this refreshing cocktail.

However, Jose Cuervo tells us yet another story. In 1945, they began running ad campaigns for the margarita with the slogan, “Margarita: It’s more than a girl’s name.” And according to Jose, the cocktail was invented in 1938 in honor of the Mexican showgirl, Rita de la Rosa.

Still, others state that the margarita was invented in 1948 by an American socialite from Dallas, Margarita Sames, at her Acapulco vacation home. The claim is that she concocted the drink for her guests, one of whom was Tommy Hilton. It is reported that Tommy, after enjoying Sames’ drink, brought the cocktail back to the U.S. and began serving them at his Hilton chain of hotels.

Another common, and U.S. based tale, claims the cocktail’s history began at the legendary Balinese Room in Galveston, Texas. In 1948, Santos Cruz, the head bartender there, created the mixture for singer Peggy Margaret Lee. Supposedly he named the drink after her, using the Spanish version of her name, Margarita.

In 1953 Esquire debuts the first know publication of the margarita recipe in their December issue. Their recipe called for one ounce of tequila, a dash of triple sec and the juice of half a lime or lemon. Still no mention of an inventor or originator, unfortunately.

As we move out of the 50s and into the 60s, we find a later story claiming that the margarita was invented in October 1961 in Houston Texas. Apparently, a gentleman by the name of Rover James “Rusty” Thomson was attending a party there and, while acting as bartender, concocted a mixture that was equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice and crushed ice. Apparently, he had run out of rum while making daiquiris. He served his experiment in a salt-rimmed glass. Although, it is also stated that Thomson’s recipe was made with Damiana Liqueur and not Cointreau. So, the mystery continues.

The debate rages on and we may never know the true origins of the cocktail that so many of us find to be a refreshing and festive elixir. But one thing is certain, the margarita’s stories are as legendary as its flavor. And it is only fitting that this classic cocktail possesses such a rich and mysterious history.



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