National Margarita Day: The Mysterious History of the Tequila-Lime Drink

Who invented the margarita?

Flickr / J Jackson Foto

February 22 is National Margarita Day, a holiday dedicated to the guzzling of tasty margs. In case you haven’t celebrated before, margaritas are typically composed of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. They can be served either frozen or on the rocks (with ice cubes), with a veritable cornucopia of additional fixings and flavors.

In 2008, the margarita passed the martini as the most ordered drink in the United States. But despite its popularity, little is known about the margarita’s origin story. Here are three theories on how the margarita was born.

A Drink Made for a King

One popular take on the invention of the margarita comes from Mexico. Marjorie King, a B-movie actress and Ziegfeld showgirl, frequented a bar owned by Danny Herrera near Tijuana. Legend has it that King was allergic to all alcohol except tequila and refused to drink unadulterated liquor. So Herrera mixed new drinks for King until he discovered one that she enjoyed.

The final recipe? “Two parts Cointreau and one part fresh lemon juice, shaken with shaved ice and served in a glass rimmed in lemon juice and salt,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Herrera dubbed his new concoction “Margarita,” a loose Spanish translation of Marjorie.

The Eponymous Cocktail

Unsurprisingly, Herrera is far from the only person who has claimed to be the inventor of the margarita. According to the Smithsonian, the wealthy socialite Margarita Sames purports to have created the drink at her vacation home in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1948. One of her guests at the time was hotel entrepreneur Tommy Hilton, who added the margarita to the bar menu at his hotels shortly after Sames’s moment of inspiration.

Unfortunately, Sames’s account doesn’t hold up after much scrutiny. As pointed out by Vinepair, Jose Cuervo started running margarita advertisements in 1945, so the drink must have been invented before then.

A Darwinian Proposal

Another theory, outlined by National Geographic, is that the margarita evolved from an earlier cocktail called the “daisy.” The daisy is a mix of hard liquor and citrus juice topped with grenadine and served on ice. Because a daisy could be served with any kind of liquor, it was only a matter of time before tequila daisies became a popular option. Because of the Mexican twist on the classic drink, people started referring to tequila daisies as “margaritas,” the Spanish word for “daisy.”

Given the surplus of origin stories, we may never know the true inventor of the cocktail. But they say history is written by the victors, and no one is winning like the margarita.

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