The History of the Margarita

Today is International Margarita Day, so I thought I would share the history of the Margarita.

Margarita, with salt and lime. Courtesy Flickr user smohundro

As with so many popular things, more than one person has claimed to have invented the margarita. One of the most prevalent stories is that Carlos “Danny” Herrera developed the drink at his Tijuana-area restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, around 1938. As the legend goes, Herrera dreamed up the cocktail for one of his customers, an aspiring actress named Marjorie King who was allergic to all hard alcohol other than tequila. To make the liquor more palatable to his fussy client, he combined the elements of a traditional tequila shot—a lick of salt and a wedge of lime—and turned them into a refreshing drink.

Another top contender for the inventor title is Margarita Sames, a wealthy Dallas socialite who claimed she whipped up the drink for friends at her Acapulco vacation home in 1948. Among her well-connected guests was Tommy Hilton, who eventually added the drink to the bar menu at his hotel chain.

According to The Complete Book of Spirits by Anthony Dias Blue, though, the first importer of Jose Cuervo in the United States advertised with the tagline, “Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name,” in 1945, three years before Sames claimed to have invented the drink.

In contrast to the fuzzy genesis of the cocktail, the origin of a machine that helped simplify the making of one of its many forms is well documented. In 2005, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired the world’s first frozen margarita machine, invented in 1971 by Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez.

Cocktail fads may come and go, but the margarita’s popularity has remained steady since its invention, whenever and wherever that was.

The Margarita is, almost certainly, the most common tequila-based cocktail in the US and worldwide. It’s served shaken, blended or or straight up, and even has its own glass. But what’s the history behind this famous drink? As with most drinks, nobody really knows their exact origin, and a lot of people have taken credit!


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Who invented it?

There are dozens of stories – many self-reported, and many claiming the Margarita was named after the drink’s recipient. I can’t help but think it’s most likely that the cocktail originated as a variation on the Tequila Daisy Cocktail. A Tequila Daisy is made with Tequila, Lime and Grenadine – and the flower called a “Daisy” in English is called “Margarita” in Spanish. Of course, that’s not the only similar cocktail that was in existence in the 1930’s – one could also easily argue that the Margarita is just a Tequila Sidecar, with Lime instead of lemon juice.


Carlos “Danny” Herrera, 1938/1948:

Carlos “Danny” Herrera supposedly created the cocktail in 1938 (or 1947, or 1948, depending who you ask) for a guest who was allergic to most spirits, but not Tequila. His restaurant was Rancho la Gloria and was halfway between Tijuana and Rosarita, Mexico. The owner of the “La Plaza” bar in San Diego knew Herrera and visited frequently, and was also known for popularizing the Margarita in San Diego in the 40’s. Albert Hernandex, bartender at the La Plaza, also confirmed this story.


Don Carlos, 1941:

In October 1941, Margarita Henkel visited Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico. The bartender there, Don Carlos, had been experimenting with drinks and offered her one of his recent concoctions. The drink was made with equal parts tequila, Controy (a Mexican orange liqueur now known as Naranja in the US) and lime. It was served in a salt-rimmed glass over ice. Don Carlos named the drink after Margarita, as she was the first to try it.


Francisco “Pancho” Morales, 1942:

Francisco Morales created the Margarita on July 4, 1942 in a bar called Tommy’s Place in the El Paso-Juarex area.  Morales was asked to create a Magnolia – a drink he didn’t know. Feigning confidence, he whipped up a drink – that the customer loved. It became the Margarita. According to the LA Times, “over the years, several people claimed to have invented the drink; but Mexico’s official news agency Notimex and many experts say that Morales has the strongest claim. ” Morales moved to the US and became a milkman for 25 years.


Other Claims:

The above are just the beginning – there are dozens of other stories of the Margarita’s creation. Here are a few more, in Chronological order:

  • 1930s: Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana and Bertita’s Bar in Tasca, Mexico both claimed to have created the Margarita.
  • 1935: A Bartender at Las Dos Republicas in Matamoros, Mexico supposedly created the drink for a guest named Marguerite Hemery. She loved the cocktail, and he named the drink after her – the “Marguerita”
  • 1936: According to Salvador Negrete, his father Danny Negrete was a bartender at the Hotel Garci-Crespo in Puebla, Mexico. The drink was a wedding present to his brother’s Fiance, Margarita. The drink was equal parts tequila, triple sec and lime juice and served over crushed ice.
  • 1936-1937: John Durlesser was Head barman of the Los Angeles bar, McHenry’s Tail O’ the Cock Restaurant, and claims to have invented the cocktail as a tribute to a girlfriend of his who had passed away many years prior in a hunting accident. Durlesser recounted this story in a 1970’s interview.
  • 1937: “The Picador” cocktail was published in London’s Cafe Royal cocktail book. The recipe is almost exactly the same as a 2:1:1 Margarita, though without salt.
  • 1940’s: Enrique Bastate Gutierrez worked at The Foreign Club in Tijuana where Margarita Carmen Cansino (Stage name: Rita Hayworth) worked as part of a dance act. Gutierrez claims to have invented the Margarita in the dancer’s honor.
  • 1948: Margaret “Margarita” Sames was a rich, young Texas socialite and was hosting a Christmas party at her home in Acapulco. The story goes, Sames was challenged to create a cocktail and the result was the Margarita. Supposedly guests at the party included Nick Hilton, founder of the Hilton hotel chain, as well as Joseph Drown, owner of the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, and Shelton McHenry, the owner of the LA nightspot Tail o’ the Cock. (Sound Familiar?) She credited her guests with helping to popularize the drink.


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Notable Dates in the Margarita’s History:

Aside from its inception, there are some other dates that are arguably extremely important for the rise in the Margarita’s popularity:

  • 1945: Jose Cuervo is advertised in the United States with the tagline “Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name”
  • 1953: Esquire Magazine highlights the Margarita as the Drink of the Month
  • 1965: Tommy’s Margarita was invented by Julio Bermejo who named it after his family’s Mexican restaurant and bar in San Francisco, the self-proclaimed “premier tequila bar on earth”.
  • 1971: Mariano Martinez, the owner of Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine, invented the world’s first frozen Margarita machine to help keep up with demand at his bar. He was inspired by the local 7-11’s Slurpee machine, and adapted the machine to work for Margaritas. It became a hit, and other versions of the machine quickly spread. (As a side note, the original Margarita Machine was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2005.)


One Margarita, Two Margarita, Three Margarita…

In my opinion, the reason there are so many stories for the History of the Margarita is that lots of people probably did invent it. It’s a relatively simple drink that’s not a distant variation from reasonably well known cocktails at the time. The fact that it was “invented” in so many places is a testament to how great of a cocktail it is. As far as I’m concerned, I appreciate each and every person who “invented” the drink and helped make it as popular as it is today!

By the way – here are my personal favorite Classic Margarita and Tommy’s Margarita recipes, in case you’re feeling inspired!


Thanks for reading,

Stewart Rogers USA-south Carolina

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