Hungry History

Bottoms Up: The Salty History of the Margarita

By Stephanie Butler
margarita

iStockphotos.com

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. While it’s a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage, with parades and street festivals in cities and towns across Mexico and the United States. And what Cinco de Mayo celebration would be complete without a freshly made margarita? Let’s take this opportunity to revisit the history of this delicious concoction of tequila, Cointreau, lime and salt.

But let’s start things off with one fact—no one is really certain of the origin of the margarita. The drink name first appeared in print in a 1953 issue of Esquire magazine, and it contained just an ounce of tequila, some triple sec and the juice of half a lime (or lemon, either was apparently ok). But 15 years before, in his tome “Royal Café Cocktail Book,” William Tarling wrote the recipe for a drink called the Picador, which called for tequila, Cointreau and lime juice (not lemon!). And the margarita is certainly not a traditional Mexican drink, which is probably due to the fact that Mexico has never had a particularly strong cocktail culture, unlike the United States or Britain.

The most widely circulated margarita origin story involves a beautiful young actress with a puzzling allergy, on holiday in Tijuana in 1938. According to legend, Carlos “Danny” Herrera created the drink for a Ziegfeld showgirl named Marjorie King at his restaurant, Rancho La Gloria. King claimed to be allergic to every hard liquor except tequila, but she didn’t want to drink the tequila straight. Herrera created the drink to keep his customer happy, even giving it a Spanish version of her name, and it stayed on the menu long after King left.

Another story revolves around a totally separate drink, the daisy, that had its heyday in the late 1930s. Long gone from most cocktail menus now, the daisy included a base liquor like gin or bourbon, curacao and citrus. Tequila Daisies appeared in cocktail pamphlets from this period, and it’s not too much of a stretch to see how this morphed into the margarita: the word “margarita” is Spanish for “daisy”.

A final story comes from Acapulco, and a Texan socialite named Margaret Sames. Sames would throw riotous parties at her Acapulco vacation house, drawing screen stars, social butterflies and real estate magnates like Conrad Hilton, father of the Hilton Hotel chain. Sames claimed to have created the drink one party season, and Hilton then took it back to serve in his hotels. But, while a popular story, Sames’ claim doesn’t exactly add up: three years before she said she mixed the first margarita, Jose Cuervo was running ads for tequila margaritas in magazines throughout the United States.

Categories: Cinco de Mayo, Drinks, Mexico