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Cinco de Mayo

There is some distorted and warped pleasure in being a writer and with the “stroke of a pen” destroying long-held perceptions and core beliefs.

Okay, truth be told, focusing on adult beverages is not exactly the stuff of Woodward and Bernstein, yet there is still some satisfaction in bringing “the real story” to light. And this week is one of those self-satisfying moments when, hopefully, I will tell a tale you have not heard before. No biggie actually, but I have to take those moments when I can. Few and far between.

In Mexico, May 5 is not exactly at the same level of American provincialism as St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Americans have practically shamed the Irish into recognizing the Feast Day of that nation’s patron saint, but the Irish, always happy to find an excuse to party, correctly refuse to add green dye to perfectly good beer. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is, at best, a minor holiday.

Since we mal-informed Americans have no real appreciation of our own history, not to mention someone else’s, let’s start this discussion by noting that May 5 is not Independence Day in Mexico. That happy holiday falls on September 16 and denotes our neighbor’s declaration of independence from Spain in 1810.

Many years later, in 1861, French forces invaded Mexico, sensing easy pickings of a disorganized country but instead Mexican forces defeated the French, despite overwhelming odds, in the town of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Think it’s unusual for the Old World to return to the New? Refer to America’s War of 1812 when the White House was set afire by the again-invading British and it took the Battle of New Orleans to settle our independence once and for all.

Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, although it is observed strongly in Puebla. And the American influence has encouraged Mexico to pay the day greater heed.

As to the margarita, the official drink of Cinco de Mayo (not really but you would think so judging from the commercial messages in bars and on television), that is not so much Mexican either. Oh, yes, the main spirit in the margarita is tequila, decidedly Mexican in origin. The origins of the drink are seriously in doubt but probably not the true born-on date.


1938 –  Carlos “Danny” Herrara, bartender at Rancho de la Gloria, midway between Tijuana and Rosarito, Mexico concocts a drink for Marjorie King, a Ziegfeld dancer who was allergic to many spirits but not tequila.

1941 – Bartender Don Carlos Orozco, Hussong’s Cantina, Ensenada, Mexico, creates a cocktail for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the then German ambassador to Mexico.

1942 – Bartender Francisco “Pancho” Morales, Tommy’s Place, El Paso, Texas, invents the margarita cocktail, becomes a U.S. Citizen, and a few years later leaves the profession and is a milk man for 25 years. 

1948 – While on vacation in Acapulco, Dallas socialite Margaret Semmes invents the drink while with Tommy Hilton, and he brings the recipe for the cocktail back to his eponymous hotel chain.


The great flaw in this version of the story is that in 1945 Jose Cuervo created an advertising campaign, “Margarita. It’s more than a girl’s name.”  The spirit company claims the drink was invented in 1938 in honor of a Mexican showgirl, Rita de la Rosa.

There are also stories that supposedly had the drink being created in Galveston in 1948 and then in Houston in 1961.

But the most credible, and earliest, story is about a classic cocktail first noted in the late 1800’s, The Daisy, and here we find the birth-mother of the margarita. The Daisy also likely gave life to The Sidecar, a popular drink around World War I. Then around 1935, right after Prohibition was repealed, and with the substitution of tequila instead of brandy or cognac, the Daisy cocktail morphed into a margarita.


The Daisy

Stir well with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker, then strain into a chilled Collins glass and top with a splash of chilled club soda or seltzer.


I am a dyed-in-the-rind citrus fan, so for me, the classic Margarita is a simple drink, three ingredients and three ingredients only. Equal parts fresh-squeezed lime juice, Cointreau and a good grade of Tequila, like a Silver. On the rocks. No salt. The earthy flavors of the Tequila shine through the citrus and the Cointreau, or Grand Marnier, adds all the sugar one requires.

Yes, I will admit that the very simplicity of the margarita throws some mixologists for a loop. And on more than one occasion in some very nice bars, the drink is brought to us with items we did not request. But eventually, after explanation and rejection, we get to a satisfactory result.

Viva Cinco de Mayo!!




Read Happy Hour here on MyNewOrleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com.




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