Two Countries, One Cocktail: Unraveling the Mystery of Margarita

BY: 
Rachel
 | May 5, 2023

Credit: Nuestro Stories

The margarita. A tangy and refreshing cocktail, made up of tequila, lime juice, triple sec, and ice. Or is it Cointreau, blanco tequila, lime juice, and no ice?

Let’s go back to what we know. The margarita is tasty. And it’s named after a woman. A woman named Margarita. But who was Margarita? A socialite? A bar owner? An actress? And where did this original Margarita have the drink named after her?

It’s Cinco de Mayo, a perfect reason to journey into the complex history of the classic cocktail which has two countries competing for its origin story. One cocktail. Two countries? Si. It’s time to unravel the origin story of the margarita.

According to the Smithsonian magazine, the official publication from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, USA, the birthplace of the margarita has roots in Dallas, Texas in the 1940s. This is when a socialite named Margaret “Margarita” Sames concocted the drink for her guests at a house party. The drink gained popularity among her friends, and eventually, the recipe spread to bars in Texas and beyond thanks to a special party guest: Hotelier Tommy Hilton. He is said to have added the drink to his hotel bar menus, bringing Margaret Sames’ fiesta cocktail to the mainstream.

The USA’s love affair with the margarita doesn’t end with this origin story.

Fast forward to 1971, restaurant owner Mariano Martinez created the first frozen margarita machine from a repurposed ice cream dispenser to help his bartender keep up with the demand for the cold beverage. In the Smithsonian Magazine’s article appropriately titled “The Uniquely Texan Origins of the Frozen Margarita, the first frozen margarita’s appeal and impact is summed up: “The beverage was teeth-chatteringly cold with a proper tequila face-slap. Happy hour (and hangovers) would never be the same.” Not bad for a historic event. Then, in 2005, the United States solidified its commitment to preserving the history of the frozen libation when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired the Martinez’s original machine.

But not so rapido USA.

Just a hop, skip, and a salt shaker south of the border, in the port town of Ensenada, a government-run cultural center claims to be the real home of the original margarita! This Cultural Center was originally the “Hotel Playa” a casino hotel that opened to great fanfare in the 1930s.

It is here that, the local Mexican government claims, hotel and casino owner Majorie King Plant is said to have walked into the Andaluz Bar to order a “magnolia” drink in 1948. Not remembering the ingredients for Marjorie’s magnolia cocktail, the bartender improvised by adding some limes and white tequila and then named it the margarita in his client’s honor.

Two Countries, One Cocktail: Unraveling the Mystery of Margarita
Ensenada, Mexico’s Cultural Center is home to the Bar Andaluz which boasts its place in history as the home of the original Margarita cocktail.

Today, the cultural center even boasts a “plaque” (painted Mexican tile placed on/in the wall outside the historic building) to mark the cocktail’s creation. Yeah, there’s another antique bar in Ensenada, Hussong’s, that claims to be the birthplace of the margarita. It’s here that bartender Don Carlos Orozco created the margarita, in the 1940s supposedly, for a German ambassador’s daughter who visited the cantina, Her name? Margarita Henkel, of course. But this claim is not Mexican government “approved.” Yet.

It’s worth noting that there are many other variations of the margarita’s origin story, beyond those of the US and Mexican governments.

A popular, but unbacked claim, even claims the drink was named after Spanish-American actress Margarita Carmen Cansino — most popularly known as 1940s pinup girl Rita Hayworth.

Two Countries, One Cocktail: Unraveling the Mystery of Margarita
Some believe the Margarita was named after Spanish-American actress Margarita Carmen Cansino — most popularly known as 1940s pinup girl Rita Hayworth. Pictured here.

The actress is said to have inspired the drink’s creation during her time as a teenage dancer in Tijuana, Mexico. This version is the frozen margarita’s creator, Restaurateur Martinez’s, favorite. “After Margarita got a contract from a Hollywood studio, she changed her name to Rita Hayworth,” he told the Smithsonian Magazine. “Supposedly, the drink was named in her honor.”

With two countries boasting their own margarita origin stories, the exact details of the tangy drink’s origin may never be fully known. However, one thing is clear: the margarita – stirred, shaken, or frozen – is perhaps the most famous cocktail in the world. And, on Cinco de Mayo, and beyond, it brings a huge sense of pride (and some hangovers) for Mexicans and Americans alike.

¡Salud!

Beyond this cocktail, read some of our other stories: The True Meaning of the Cinco de Mayo

Original Margarita Recipe, Your Next Favorite Cocktail

Two Countries, One Cocktail: Unraveling the Mystery of Margarita

According to the folks at Cointreau liquor company, the “Original Margarita recipe” is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. And the drink, according to Cointreau again, was first created in 1948 by Dallas socialite Margarita Sames. What was in her cocktail?

“The Original Margarita recipe calls for Cointreau, tequila, and fresh lime juice,” a company press release boasts. And who are we to disagree? Cointreau was like the Pepsi of its day after all. (Popular and everyone loved it unless you’re a Coca-Cola person. Then you can say Contreau was like the Coca-Cola of its day.)

As Margarita Sames once said (again, according to Contrreau): “A Margarita without Cointreau is not worth its salt.

Here we invite you to enjoy a margarita, for Cinco de Mayo. Or, just because.

A Cocktail to Remember: The Original Margarita

Ingredients

1 oz Cointreau
2 oz blanco tequila
1 oz fresh lime juice

Directions to make the best cocktail

STEP 1: Rim your rocks glass with salt
STEP 2: Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice
STEP 3: Shake vigorously until well chilled
STEP 4: Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice
STEP 5: Garnish with a lime wheel

(FYI: Cointreau is an orange liqueur at the heart of more than 500 of the world’s most requested cocktails, including The Margarita, The Cosmopolitan, and The Sidecar. Founded in 1849 in Angers, France, by Edouard Cointreau, The House of Cointreau came from a blend of sweet and bitter orange peels.)

By the numbers:

Americans spend $2.9 billion on Margaritas every year (and not just on Cinco de Mayo), according to Forbes.com.

In 2008, the Cheers On-Premise Handbook stated that a whopping 185,00 margaritas are consumed per hour on average nationwide.

Calorie counting? A homemade Margarita has around 248 calories (while an Applebee’s Restaurant has about 300), according to Healthline.com.

Musical Margarita facts:

Margaritaville is a 1977 song written by singer Jimmy Buffett after he discovered the cocktail at a restaurant.

World Wide Tune has identified at least 15 songs about the Margarita.

A Reason to Celebrate:

National Margarita Day was founded in 2009 by American Todd McCalla “to spread his love for margaritas around the world.”

¡Salud!

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