Zapata: Invented the margarita?
Zapata: Invented the margarita?

Five Things You Didn't Know About Margaritas

Today is National Margarita Day, a made-up holiday so food critics like myself can do listicles like these and ensure more readers will click through our posts to read regurgitated facts like how the margarita is the nation's most popular cocktail (somewhat true) to that Emiliano Zapata invented the margarita (huh?). However, this one is different: you'll actually learn things you probably don't know about margaritas, because I've been researching the drink for the past couple of years for my Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America book (out April 10!). Anyhoo, the listicle.
1. No Mexican Foodstuff has More Origin Stories Surrounding It...

No one knows for certain who invented the margarita, and each telling of the tale gets more ludicrous. I've heard everything from a bartender inventing the drink after a chica caliente named Margarita or Margaret who was--take your pick--a socialite, call girl, or ambassador's daughter to--crazy!--Rita Hayworth (real name Margarita Cansino) to--crazier!--Peggy Lee. A likelier case is to be made that the margarita came from the Tequila Daisy, a borderlands cocktail concocted during Prohibition, because "margarita" is "daisy" in Spanish. More stories? Invented in Dallas, invented in Los Angeles, in San Antonio or Galveston, or invented by Emiliano Zapata to conquer wimpy Yankees once and for all...

2. ...But The Originator of the Frozen Margarita Machine is Undisputed

Martinez, in a photo from the 1970s, at Mariano's
Martinez, in a photo from the 1970s, at Mariano's

That man is Mariano Martinez, who gets nearly an entire chapter devoted to him in my book. His story is somewhat known, but it's an inspirational, hilarious story--truly one of the most down-to-earth celebrities I've ever had the pleasure of interviewing. You'll have to wait for my book for the whole story--or, better yet, go visit his restaurants in Dallas, where the first frozen margarita machine operated for decades until being donated to the Smithsonian a couple of years back. Short story: Martinez invented the machine at his Mariano's Restaurant in 1971 to head off a mutiny by his bartenders. Long story? Read the book!

3. There's a Reason Why Most Margarita Mixes Come in Buckets

Five Things You Didn't Know About Margaritas

Let me crib it from my book:

Martinez never patented the frozen margarita machine, because "I wasn't interested in the machine business when I was young; I only cared about what was happening inside the four walls of Mariano's." Nor did he seek legal ownership of his other great liquor invention, prefabricated margarita mix, which he created after receiving requests on how to make frozen margaritas from a blender at home (the reason you almost always find margarita mix in a bucket: Martinez perfected it in empty Spackle buckets while remodeling his home, finding those buckets allowed him to pour in a full bottle of tequila into a set amount of margarita mix to produce a perfect ratio for a great margarita). Martinez did try to patent the latter, but spent so much money defending it in court against bigger companies that he finally gave up. "I've learned that if something's a good idea, someone's going to copy you," he says.

4. Mariano Martinez No Longer Likes His Margaritas from a Machine
Five Things You Didn't Know About Margaritas

Again, from the book:

"Reporters ask me, 'What do you say to purists that feel like a margarita shouldn't come out of a machine?' I reply, 'Hey, I'm one of them'" he says. "Today, I'm not going to get it out of a machine--mine are fresh-squeezed lime juice, and I like the taste of Grand Marnier. That's me. And just like my tastes have evolved, so have my diners. But without giving them that [first] taste, we would've never gotten to the point where we are today. Unfortunately, people took my machine and put the cheapest tequila you can find, and not much of it, and then sell it for 99 cents. I don't know about you, but if I'm eating a burger, I'm not spending 99 cents on one."

5. Margaritas Made Mexican Food Possible in the United States

Kind of. Both Martinez and Larry Cano of El Torito fame say that their restaurant riches and that of competitors wouldn't have been possible without gabachos coming to their restaurants to try this newfangled cocktail called the margarita, and sticking around for dinner while playing the singles scene. The sit-down Mexican restaurant, remember, was the next evolution after fast-food tacos in the United States--wait, you haven't read my book to know what was the first evolution...wait, my book isn't out yet. Preorder today!

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