When it comes to the history of the margarita, there are as many theories as there are variations in flavor. Not surprisingly, almost all of them involve a woman.
In one of the most pervasive legends, that woman is named Marjorie King, an actress living in California in the 1940s. The only alcohol she could drink was tequila, but she hated drinking it straight. So a restaurateur named Carlos “Danny” Herrera started toying around with a cocktail. He added Cointreau, salt and lemon juice, and named his concoction the Spanish version of her name, Margarita.
In another legend, the woman is Margaret Sames. A Texas socialite, she claimed to have created the cocktail to serve at parties and apparently wasn’t embarrassed to name the drink after herself.
We wouldn’t put our money on these or any other legends. We prefer the explanation David Wondrich gives in his 2007 book Imbibe! (Perigee Trade, $24): In the U.S. in the 1930s, daisies were a popular drink made with fruit liqueurs and lemon, but they usually had a base of gin, whiskey, brandy or rum—basically anything but tequila. Americans traveling in Mexico started encountering cocktails made of “tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice (much more common than lemon in Mexico) and maybe a little splash of soda” called margaritas, Wondrich writes—the Spanish word for daisy.
While bars like the Violet Hour (1520 N Damen Ave, 773-252-1500) have served a version of the daisy in the past, it’s hard to find the precursor to the margarita. Your best bet? Use Wondrich’s recipe and make it yourself.
Juice of ½ lime
Juice of ¼ lemon
1 tsp powdered sugar
1 tsp grenadine
2 oz brandy, gin, rum or whiskey
½ oz carbonated water
Put all ingredients in a shaker, fill with ice and stir until the shaker is frosted. Pour into a rocks glass, decorate with fruit and sprigs of fresh mint and serve with straws.
Reprinted from Imbibe! by David Wondrich by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2007 by David Wondrich.