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The Sweet and Salty History of the Margarita

Events | May 5, 2019

Mexico Jalisco Puerto Vallarta Frosted glass of a margarita cocktail served with ice and slice of lime with whole limes at side. Source: (Photo by: Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

This Cinco de Mayo, you may want to celebrate the day with the traditional Mexican cocktail, the margarita. The cocktail itself may be simple—made with just tequila, lime juice and triple sec and served in a salt-rimmed glass—the history of this favorite drink is much more complicated. Several people have claimed to have concocted the first margarita. Even the namesake of this adult beverage is up for debate. Let’s look at the sweet and salty history of the margarita. 

Source: (northjersey.com)

Margaritas Are Mexican…Or Are They?

All the stories tell us that margaritas are a drink that was developed in Mexico in the 1930s or 1940s. It makes sense. After all, its main ingredient—tequila—is a Mexican spirit. And the cocktail has a Spanish name. But some experts doubt this claim. They note that margaritas are not a drink regularly consumed by the locals in Mexico and is actually more popular at the clubs and resorts that cater to foreign tourists. Additionally, Mexico does not have a vibrant cocktail culture. But what do the stories tell us?

Post card of Tijuana, Mexico, from the 1930s. Source: (hippostcard.com)

A Tijuana Bar Owner and a Picky Dancer

The most commonly-believed origin story of the margarita dates back to 1938. Nightclub dancer, Marjorie King, couldn’t drink most hard alcohol because of an allergy, but she could tolerate tequila. Drinking tequila straight, however, was a little too hard-core for King. She vented her alcohol-consumption woes to Carlos “Danny” Herrera, the owner of the club, Rancho La Gloria. He combined the elements of a tequila shot—tequila, lime, and salt—and whipped up a cocktail sweetened with triple sec. King loved it, and so did Herrera’s other customers. He decided to name is creation after King, but with a Spanish twist. Marjorie became Margarita. 

Ensenada, Mexico, in the 1940s. Source: (ebay.com)

A Bartender and a German National

Another story states that, in 1941, a bartender at a club in Ensenada, Mexico, was experimenting with mixing different cocktails. His name was Don Carlos Orozco. Orozco had just finished mixing tequila and lime juice with some triple sec when a beautiful European woman walked into the bar. She was Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a German ambassador. As a way of flirting with the lovely foreigner, Orozco asked Henkel if she would like a taste of his new drink. He then announced that he would name the cocktail after her. 

Dallas socialite Margarita Sames. Source: (lapalapamexicanrestaurant.com)

A Socialite and a Hotel Heir

Yet another origin story of the margarita states that it was first created by a woman who named it after herself. She was Margarita Sames, a wealthy socialite from Dallas. She claims that, in 1948, she was vacationing in Acapulco, Mexico, with a who’s who of the rich and famous when she mixed up a round of drinks for her friends, loosely based on the tequila shot. Her chums all enjoyed the drink and began referring to it as “Margarita’s drink”. One of her friends, hotel heir Tommy Hilton, a relative of Paris Hilton, offered to add the drink to the bar menu of every hotel in the Hilton chain. This is a nice story, but most likely untrue. Three years prior to Sames’ lavish Acapulco vacay, the tequila brand, Jose Cuervo, had a print ad campaign noting the use of its tequila in margaritas. 

Margarita Carmen Cansino, otherwise known as Rita Hayworth. Source: (variety.com)

Two Margaritas and a Wedding

Bartender Danny Negrete claims that he invented the cocktail for his future sister-in-law, a charming girl named Margarita. Negrete is said to have presented his new sis-in-law with the drink when she arrived at Mexico’s Graci Crespo Hotel ahead of her wedding. Negrete may have been inspired, however, by another charming girl named Margarita. You see, Negrete worked at the Agua Caliente Race Track and a young starlet named Margarita Carmen Cansino performed there. When she made it big in Hollywood, Margarita Carmen Cansino changed her name to Rita Hayworth. 

Jimmy Buffett. Source: (people.com)

Frozen in Jimmy Buffett’s Blender

The frozen version of the margarita came along much later…in the 1960s. This icy cold adaptation of the classic cocktail became synonymous with the tropical beach party culture, particularly after Jimmy Buffett’s release of the 1978 mega-hit, “Margaritaville.” No matter who created the iconic drink or who it was named after, there is no denying that the margarita has become s symbol for fun in the south-of-the-border sun. 

Tags: cinco de mayo | drinks | margaritas | adult beverage

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.