The search for the origin of the Margarita

Who Was She?

There are as many origin stories about the margarita as there are variations on how to make it. But, in both cases, only one is correct.

The drink, when properly made, is simplicity itself. The perfect embodiment of what a cocktail should be. It should not be sweet, syrupy, tart, sour, bitter, or boozy. And yet it is all of those things, balanced in a precarious harmony that can be shattered in the wrong hands. One late night, in a dark tavern on the outskirts of Juarez where our search had brought us, we were in the right hands.

The hands, rough and scarred, that gathered the lime and tequila bottle spoke of years, or decades, in that border town bar. He turned his back to us, pouring the ingredients into the mixing glass: Tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur. Maybe he broke off a corner of a sugar cube. Shaken briskly and strained into a glass with a salted rim and garnished with lime. Anything else is unnecessary, and yet when those ingredients come together, a strange alchemy pulls you into the glass, a Russian Doll–mystery that further unfolds with each sip.

The final ingredient?

“Who was she?” he croaked in a voice that had been shredded by Faro unfiltereds washed down with tequila in response to our question as to who the cocktail had been named after. “She weren’t nobody.” The answer left only more questions.

Did he mean the drink wasn’t named after a woman at all? Did he mean that she was unknown, some singer who struck a bartender’s fancy one night and then faded into the mist of the surrounding desert?

“She weren’t nobody,” he repeated.

When he turned back to face us, we saw a single tear had welled up in his right eye, and it drizzled slowly down his face as he placed the drink in front of us. For a long moment, nothing in the room moved. We heard only the creak of the rafters and the old floorboards. The dust felt thicker; the air appeared even more yellow. The tear hung for a moment and then fell from his cheek, the single drop splashing into the drink below—the final ingredient.

The bear of a biker at the stool next to us turned his head only slightly toward us, not enough for us to see the scar running down the other side of his face and said, “You gringos ask a lot of questions you shouldn’t.”