“Cocktails,” writes famed booze historian David Wondrich, “are rarely created in the full light of history.”
The margarita’s origin story is further complicated by having to cross the Mexico-U.S. border (though in which direction is also disputed), only to lose its way entirely between 1960 and the late ’80s, when bartenders were throwing everything in the popular cocktail to mask the taste of agave, the Mexican plant that’s baked, distilled and—depending on the style—aged to create tequila.
But the classic combination of lime juice, Triple Sec and a salt rim that is the margarita has endured, and is the seventh most popular cocktail in the world, according to a poll of Drinks International’s 50 best bars of 2015.
With National Margarita Day coming up on Feb. 22, Patrón Tequila asked Wondrich to do a deep dive into the cocktail’s history — and found a lot of claims to fame, each with “enough evidence to mark it as plausible.”
A happy accident: In the 1920s, about 50 years after the Daisy (a shot shaken with lemon juice and orange cordial, then splashed with soda) was popularized in New York City, a Tijuana bartender named Henry Madden grabbed the wrong bottle while making the drink (he was going for gin) and handed over a Tequila Daisy — which is also the Spanish word for Margarita.
The one from a cafe in London: A cocktail called the Picador, made with tequila, lime and Triple Sec, is just one of 15 tequila drinks that appear in a 1937 cocktail book by the Café Royal in London. Two years later, the Cotton Club’s cocktail book had a drink called Tequila with the same recipe, this time with a salted rim, among its sours.
California connection: A Los Angeles bar called the Tail o’ the Cock had started to move a lot of tequila by 1955 with a drink called the Margarita. Head bartender John Durlesser told a local nightlife columnist that he’d actually invented the cocktail almost 20 years earlier, in 1937. In another interview 11 years later, however, he told Bon Appetit magazine that, rather than inventing it, he’d been asked to re-create a drink that a female patron remembered from Mexico.