Santa Fe has had a long illustrious relationship with tequila. And the margarita. Since its origins as one of the key outposts along the Camino Real (the “King’s Highway” of Colonial times that stretched 1,200 miles from just north of Santa Fe all the to Mexico City), the City Different has long recognized tequila, especially Mexican tequila, as a strong part of its cultural and economic makeup.
Today, what little most people know about this centuries-old “cactus juice” comes to them in the form of the margarita. Most of which are frozen and machine-made. But this syrupy-sweet, semi-frozen concoction has little to do with a real margarita. In its purest form, the margarita remains an excellent showcase for a variety of flavors.
In its traditional form, the margarita adheres to a 3-2-1 ratio: 3 parts tequila to 2 parts triple sec (orange liqueur) and 1 part fresh lime juice. (The rim may or may not be salted.) That’s it. It’s hard to imagine how something so simple could be commercialized to the point that it can come from a machine, a bottle, or a concentrate. How could these ever compare to the fantastic explosion of tastes contained in a properly made margarita? The one with fresh lime juice, the sensuous orangey sweetness of a good orange liqueur, and the fine flavors of various tequilas.
Many theories about the origin of the drink abound. It’s been alleged to have been invented in 1948 by a wealthy Dallas socialite, Margaret Sames, to entertain friends at her vacation home in Acapulco. Her friend Tommy Hilton enjoyed one so much he began to carry them on the bar menus of all the Hilton Hotels. Others think the drink, and its name, originated from the prohibition-era cocktail the “Daisy.” Supposedly a bartender accidentally poured tequila, not brandy, into a Daisy, and—voila!—invented the margarita (Spanish for daisy). Others contend that a Tijuana bartender invented it for Rita “Margarita” Hayworth, who as a teenager purportedly entertained audiences at the Agua Caliente Racetrack in the 1930’s. It could also be a rebranded Picador cocktail, which was clearly a prototype of the margarita. Regardless, the first recorded mention of the cocktail is in 1930 in G.F. Steele’s My New Cocktail Book. In 1953, Esquire designated it their “drink of the month” (saying, “she is lovely to look at, exciting and provocative”).
The origins of tequila itself are much clearer and are steeped in the syncretism found in contemporary North American Hispanic and Mesoamerican cultures. For the early Mesoamerican peoples and the Aztec, the fermented product of the American agave, or maguey, was pulque. This is a simply fermented and mildly alcoholic preparation of maguey sap that was held in great sacred respect and was an integral part of many religious festivals and ceremonies. Following the invasion of the Spanish, the drink was secularized and pulque became a popular libation among the lower classes. The upper classes were oriented to European tastes, so wine and brandy prevailed as their more popular drink.
Distillation of pulque led to the more concentrated and powerful spirits we know today as mescal and tequila (coming from different subspecies of agave). This was made utilizing Spanish technology and techniques to produce a hybridized drink that celebrated the “best of both worlds,” one that echoed the syncretic and hybridized culture that produced it.
Myself, I usually go for straight shots, some lime slices, and salt. (And my tequilas of choice, in the form of a Reposado, are: Patrón, Jose Cuervo Tradicional, and El Tesoro.) But whatever your form of tequila consumption, the Agoyo Lounge at Inn on the Alameda serves them all. Our fine and diverse selection of tequilas makes for an evenly spaced evening of shots, margaritas, or even Jimmy Buffet’s (or the Eagles’) tequila sunrises. But once you get started, our warm and inviting atmosphere will induce you into spending hours in front of our fireplace (in the winter) or, in the summer, relaxing contentedly on the patio.
Add from our menu any or all of these Mexican specialties: guacamole with salsa and chips, empanadas, chicken enchilada casseroles, gordita flour tacos, calabacitas, or Bear’s famous Atomic Frito Pie!
Even better, the Inn on the Alameda and our Agoyo Lounge will be kicking off Cinco de Mayo as one of the top stops along Santa Fe’s inaugural Margarita Trail. The Trail will be offering a “culinary cocktail experience” that shows off the best Santa Fe has to offer, with drinks priced at seven to twelve dollars. We’ll have margaritas of all makes and colors, and our fine selection of top-of-the-line tequilas will have you feeling like John Wayne, who once wrote a letter to the owner of Sauza Tequila telling him that in the Duke’s home, tequila had become “as necessary in our household as air and water.”
But like everything else in life, moderation is the key to happiness. And in the case of tequila and margaritas, to a morning without hangovers or upset stomachs.