Like that of most great cocktails (and most great nights spent drinking those cocktails), the margarita’s history is blurry. We might not know who first mixed up the zingy, citrusy drink but we do know about a few landmark locations in the drink’s evolution. I recently sat down with spirits expert and author Noah Rothbaum, who helped me identify five key bars and restaurants that played important roles in the history of the margarita.
Turf Bar, Tijuana
While the margarita has no official birthplace, one popular story places it at Turf Bar, a Main Street, Tijuana bar where a man named Henry Madden bartended in the 1920s and ’30s. Madden was famed for his take on a Daisy, a classic cocktail traditionally made with brandy, lemon, sugar and Curaçao liqueur (or raspberry syrup). Madden’s version of the cocktail wasn’t made with brandy, though. According to a reporter who visited the bar in 1936, Madden’s recipe came about by mistake—he simply picked up the wrong bottle one day (cocktail historians assume it was tequila, though there’s no actual evidence of that) and went with it. And (ta-da!) the margarita (or at least the myth of the margarita) was born.
Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine, Dallas
Bartenders across the country started making frozen cocktails in blenders in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1971 that they got a machine dedicated to creating slushy drinks. Fed up with backed-up orders and inconsistent results, Texas restaurateur Mariano Martinez decided that there had to be a better way. His initial thought was to use a Slurpee machine. “But 7-Eleven wouldn’t sell him one,” Rothbaum says. “So he modified a soft-serve ice cream machine.” It was an instant success. Now the original margarita machine is housed in the Smithsonian, but you can still get the frozen drinks at Mariano’s locations across Texas.