As summer temperatures soar in New Mexico, there is nothing like a margarita to welcome the weekend, from the classic sweet & sour/Cointreau version to those incorporating a variety of flavors. If there is a cocktail synonymous with the Southwest, the Margarita is a strong contender to claim that title.
Margarita: It’s More than a Girl’s Name
The Margarita’s origin story is as shrouded in mystery as the creation myths of long lost civilizations. There’s less magic and fewer Gods involved. In most cases, a woman is involved and credited with the name. Most claims trace to the 1930s and 1940s. Later claims are easily debunked, because by 1945 it was a popular cocktail in Texas, southern California, Arizona and New Mexico. Jose Cuervo ran an ad campaign with the slogan “Margarita: It’s more than a girl’s name.”
Who Deserves Credit?
Francisco “Pancho” Morales
Based on the most plausible claims, we owe thanks to one of our neighbors to the south, either Texas or Mexico. Notimex, Mexico’s national news agency, gave credit for the cocktail creation to Francisco “Pancho” Morales in his obituary. He claims to have mixed the first margarita on July 4, 1942 at his bar, Tommy’s Place, in Juarez. He later left his job as a barkeeper to become a US citizen, working in El Paso as a milkman for 25 years.
Don Carlos Orozco
Another gentleman, Don Carlos Orozco, also claims to have invented the drink. He has witnesses to corroborate his story and is credited with introducing the margarita to San Diego. He claims the drink was an accidental discovery made in 1941 while experimenting with cocktail combinations one afternoon at his bar in Ensenada. The daughter of the German ambassador to Mexico, Margarita Henkel, stopped by for a visit. He served her one of his concoctions. She enjoyed it. He named it after her. The rest is history. Or is it?
Carlos “Danny” Herrera
Carlos “Danny” Herrera claims to have invented the drink earlier, in 1938, for a former Ziegfeld dancer named Marjorie King at his restaurant Rancho la Gloria between Tijuana and Rosarito, Mexico. Marjorie was allergic to most forms of alcohol other than tequila, but straight shots were too harsh. Danny came up with the Margarita, incorporating the elements of a traditional shot (salt and lime), but masking the tequila with the fruitiness of the Cointreau.
Later claims are easy to debunk; however, several people were instrumental in catapulting the cocktail’s popularity nationwide in the 1950s. Margarita Sames, a Dallas socialite, introduced the drink to the Hilton family at a party in 1948. They added it to the bar menu at their hotels worldwide a couple of years later, thereby bringing margaritas to the masses!
Popularized During Prohibition?
However, not all origin stories involve the Southwest or women. One theory is based on the popularity of a cocktail called “The Daisy” during Prohibition. It is very similar to a Margarita, but uses brandy instead of tequila. As Americans crossed the border into Mexico to get alcohol during the Prohibition era, brandy was scarce. Tequila was plentiful and provided a tasty substitute. A drink called the Tequila Daisy appeared in the Syracuse Herald in 1936. Margarita is Spanish for daisy.
By 1953, Esquire Magazine published a recipe for Margarita, which is indicative of the increased popularity of the drink. Regardless of who came up with this fresh, fruity cocktail, it is a great way to start your weekend.
Mixing the Perfect Margarita
There are endless variations on Margaritas. Every bartender can put their own spin on the recipe, making it their own. At El Paragua in Española, the recipe served is attributed to Luis Atencio. He was the founding father of both El Paragua and El Parasol…literally. His grandchildren and great grandchildren are increasingly involved in what has become a family legacy, running multiple locations to this day.
Luis Atencio was a plumber by trade, with a small shop on land owned by his family since the arrival of the Spanish in the Española valley. As a small business owner, he was fully supportive when his sons started selling his wife’s tacos and tamales by bike to earn extra money during their summer breaks. He set them up with a table and an umbrella to protect them from the brutal summer heat.
As the boy’s taco stand became popular, Luis helped them expand. He built a small sit down restaurant in the tack room next to his shop. The community responded enthusiastically and he expanded, adding a bar within a year. Based on the stories shared by his progeny, he was a ‘natural’ as a bartender; a good listener, extroverted, affable, and amicable. He was equally at ease helping a friend down the road fix a toilet as he was jaunting with N. Scott Momaday to Juarez, Mexico to have Boquilla Pescado ala Parrilla at La Fogata.
Plumber, Bartender, Margarita Connoisseur
Obviously he couldn’t have his underage sons take over the bar. He became a plumber by day and a bartender by night. He treated every patron who walked in the door like a friend. As a result, he got to know most of northern New Mexico working behind the bar at El Paragua over the years, counting famous writers, artists, scientists, dignitaries, movie stars and politicians among his friends and customers.
Luis’ margaritas have the added kick of citrus, with fresh squeezed orange juice and a splash of pineapple juice. So, as the weekend approaches, mix up a batch, slow down and appreciate time with family and friends.
- 1 ½ oz Gold Tequila
- 1 ½ oz sweet & sour
- ½ oz Triple Sec
- Juice of fresh orange, one wedge
- Splash of pineapple juice
- If using salt, place in a shallow dish. Moisten the rim of a rocks glass with a dampened paper towel, then dip in salt.
- Fill the glass with ice (crushed or cubed). Add tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau. Shake or stir a few times to chill. Serve immediately.
Please leave your recipe modifications and/or questions in the comments below.