An Enthusiast’s guide to cocktails: the Margarita


While there is much debate about the exact history of the drink, the lore that surrounds the Margarita is rich and interesting. Initially tequila was not used in cocktails. Rather, it was served straight in a shot glass with a side of lime and salt (sound familiar?). Starting in the mid ‘30s, examples of mixed drinks that include distilled agave began to pop up. In fact, the 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book includes not one, but 15 different tequila concoctions. One of which is called the Picador, which calls for 2pts tequila, 1pt citrus, 1pt Cointreau (note the absence of salt). Also, around the same time there was a well-known cocktail called the Tequila Daisy that combined tequila, citrus and grenadine. Incidentally, the Spanish word for “daisy” is margarita. Coincidence? I think not.

So clearly this combination was not completely original in the late ‘30s—early ‘40s when it was purportedly “invented” in the Americas.

One of the more famous tales is the story of actress Marjorie King who was apparently was allergic to all alcohol with the exception of tequila. In 1938, while visiting the Rancho Del Gloria Bar in Rosarita Beach, Mexico, she asked bartender Carlos “Danny” Herrera to mix her a cocktail with tequila. The common version of the story goes that after trying various sweet liqueurs with the traditional salt and lime, he landed on Cointreau.  However, consider these points three:

a)   The Picador was written up in the Café Royal Cocktail Book the year before.

b)   Marjorie, being an actress, was probably a worldly gal.

c)   She could only drink tequila and did not enjoy the taste (presumably leading her to seek out more agreeable ways to imbibe it).

Hence it is quite likely that when she asked Danny to “mix her a drink with tequila” she actually had something in mind. And Danny, not being familiar with the Café Royal recipe, added salt to what was for him a novel concoction—in keeping with the standard presentation of the time. In this account the name was derived from the Spanish pronunciation of “Marjorie” and a drink was born.

The first well-documented (by Americans, hence the “official”) instance of a drink with the name “Margarita” comes from wealthy Dallas socialite Margaret “Margarita” Sames. While on vacation in Mexico in the mid-‘40s she apparently was experimenting with tequila cocktails for some houseguests and landed on the now famous recipe. This story eventually was written up in the December 1953 issue of Esquire and she was not shy in taking credit throughout her life.

However, given the numerous occurrences of cocktails that combine tequila, citrus and fruit liqueurs, it seems unlikely that Mrs. Sames truly originated the idea. That said, as an old axiom goes, it doesn’t so much matter who came up with an idea as it does who popularized it. And “Margarita” Sames definitely deserves credit for making fashionable what was 2008’s #1 best selling mixed drink in America.

These two are the most famous of a handful of other origin myths. But the truth will never be truly known. Through it all, though, one thing is certain. The Margarita is a fabulous cocktail that when done right, is incredibly pleasing. So in honor of Cinco de Mayo, here is the most basic recipe:

2pts. silver tequila
1pt. Cointreau
1pt. lime juice

Shaken and poured over ice cubes in a glass with a salt rim.

Margarita photo courtesy of Mum Yum, flickr.
Mexico photo courtesy of I Nancy, flickr.