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Oct 25, 2023

The Mysterious Origins And Rise Of The Margarita

A cocktail so famous and popular that it has a song dedicated to it, the Margarita’s origins are shrouded in mystery, and with so many tales of its invention.

Last update: Dec 01, 2023 -

3 min read


The art of mixology is, above everything else, the art of storytelling, with the glass as your canvas and the many spirits, mixers, bitters and ingredients being the inks used to tell a tale of flavour.

A lot of the most popular cocktails in the world have their own mythologies, but there are few as unique and as complex to unpick as the margarita.

A cocktail so famous that it has its own soundtrack performed by the late Jimmy Buffet, the margarita is the most popular tequila cocktail in the world and symbolised, in no small part thanks to Margaritaville, the kind of drink to enjoy in a tranquil, tropical setting.

It also, possibly thanks to its surge in popularity in the 1970s, has so many purported origin stories and folk tales of its invention that for a cocktail as sharp, sweet and salty as it is, it has a truly mysterious mythology.


The Most Likely Origin

The name margarita is Spanish for daisy, and according to David Wondrich, a cocktail historian, the margarita indeed fits within the daisy family of cocktails such as the brandy daisy.

This means that it can trace itself potentially as far back as 1876, alongside similar drinks such as the Cosmopolitan or the Sidecar.

The earliest reference to a drink that resembles the margarita was found in a 1936 account by Moville Mail editor and owner James Graham, who had taken a trip to Tijuana Mexico and found himself in a bar owned by Mr Madden, an Irish bartender.

According to this account, the “tequila daisy” was an accident when he grabbed the wrong bottle, but it proved so popular that the drink spread.

This means that the margarita was likely invented at some point in the 1930s by accident. However, cocktail history seldom lets the truth get in the way of a good story.


The Many Tall Tales

A UK cocktail book from 1937 describes a Picador using the same ingredients, but the first somewhat outlandish story of its creation is in 1938.

Carlos “Danny” Herrera, the owner of the restaurant Rancho La Gloria north of Tijuana, created the drink for Marjorie King, a dancer who was allergic to most spirits other than Tequila.

That same year, the tequila brand Jose Cuervo claimed it was invented in honour of Rita de la Rosa, a Mexican showgirl who may or may not have actually existed.

Another claim in 1941, argues that it originated in Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Baja California, in honour of Margarita Henkel Cesena, a Mexican-German ranch operator, regular at the bar and alleged daughter of a German ambassador.

The next claim was that it was invented by Francisco “Pancho” Morales at Tommy’s Place Bar in Juárez in 1942, and for a long time this was believed to be the strongest claim for its invention.

In 1948, Margarita Sames, a Dallas socialite, was claimed to have invented the drink whilst entertaining guests in Acapulco, but given that Jose Cuervo was already running advertising campaigns by 1945, this seems unlikely.

That same year, at the Balinese Room in Galveston Texas, head bartender Santos Cruz allegedly created it in honour of Peggy Lee, allegedly based on her given name Margaret, despite the fact that Peggy Lee’s real name is Norma.

Finally, as late as 1961, Robert “Rusty” Thompson was claimed to have invented the margarita at a party in Houston, Texas.

At least seven origin stories attempted to explain the creation of the margarita, highlighting how powerfully popular the drink has been for so long.


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