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The History Of The Margarita

Let's learn about America's favorite cocktail!
Photo: Beliphotos | Shutterstock

National Margarita Day is upon us and while Texans have been training for this our whole lives, some of those new to North Texas might want intel on how to proceed with this monumental occasion. Like any good tall tale, the origin and exact history of the margarita is shrouded in mystery.

Since the 1940s, there have been numerous versions of the original margarita’s origin story. According to one version, the margarita was invented by a Tijuana bartender named Carlos "Danny" Herrera, in the late 1930s or early 1940s for a customer who was allergic to all booze except tequila but found it too harsh to drink straight. Herrera mixed the tequila with lime and triple sec to create a more palatable drink.

Another version of the story credits the margarita to Acapulco socialite Margarita Sames, who is said to have created the drink for a group of friends at her vacation home in 1948, also combining tequila, triple sec, and lime juice and named it after herself. There’s a similar, but different version that states that the margarita was created in the late 1940s by a wealthy Texas society woman who was entertaining friends at her ranch, also near Acapulco. While the original recipe will always be shrouded in mystery, one thing Texans know for certain is that Texas is absolutely responsible for the frozen version of this magical drink. 

In Dallas in 1971, Mariano Martinez founded Mariano's Mexican Cuisine and quickly established the go to spot for margaritas in Dallas, which was great for business, but Martinez also realized he had a problem. Too many people wanted margaritas and it was taking too long to make them. After a sleepless night, Mariano stopped by a convenience store on the way to work for coffee, saw a slushie machine and the rest is history. While he was unable to convince the convenience store to sell him one, soon enough he was making margaritas in a soft-serve ice cream machine, and he called it “The World’s First Frozen Margarita Machine.” Over time, the frozen margarita has undoubtedly become the most popular cocktail in the entire state of Texas. 

In 2005, 34 years after its creation, Martinez retired his first machine and donated it to the Smithsonian. In 2012, it was named one of the top ten Inventions from the National Museum of American History’s Collection. While the original Mariano's Mexican Cuisine is long gone, if you visit Mariano’s Hacienda Ranch in East Dallas, you’ll find a plaque and a statue telling the story of their founder’s invention.

Another one of the most important trends in the evolution of the Margarita is, certainly, the “skinny” version. This lower-calorie version of the classic margarita typically replaces the traditional high-calorie ingredients, such as triple sec and sugar, with lower-calorie alternatives, such as agave nectar or a sugar substitute. This allows the cocktail to retain the signature sweet and sour flavor of the classic margarita while reducing the calorie content.

Most margarita fans don’t realize tequila, fresh lime juice and agave syrup in a cocktail is actually called "Tommy's Margarita" and was first served in 1965 at Tommy's Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco by Mexican immigrant Tommy Bermejo. “Tommy's Margarita” is made with 100% blue agave tequila, fresh lime juice, and a small amount of agave nectar, which creates a sweeter, smoother margarita that is less sour than a traditional margarita. The unique recipe quickly gained popularity and has since become a staple at Tommy's and a must-try for margarita lovers visiting the city.

National Margarita Day is an opportunity to celebrate the impact these cocktails have made on the drinking culture of the Lone Star State. Co-founder of Socorro Tequila, Pablo Antinori said, ”People have naturally become more cognizant of using healthier ingredients in their recipes. The same thing is what we're currently witnessing in the liquor industry. Consumers now understand the difference between mixto tequila and 100% blue weber agave. In 2004, I was serving margaritas behind the bar at a restaurant called Abuelos. I had never heard the phrase "skinny margarita," but nowadays, low-sugar tequila cocktails are the number one asked-for cocktail when ordering a margarita.”

No matter if it’s “Tommy’s” version, “Skinny,” on the rocks, or frozen or with pineapple and habanero with a tajin rim, this February 22nd make sure you give yourself a proper opportunity to revel in the greatness of the margarita. Ideally, you’ll be on a sunny patio for happy hour with chips, queso, and guac, perusing the menu for your own version of this magical elixir.