Slush Fun

Restaurateur Mariano Martinez invented the frozen-margarita machine thirty years ago this month. ¡Salud!
BIG CHILL: Serving up one of his lovely 'ritas in 1991.

Thirty years ago this month—on May 11, 1971, to be exact—Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez, Jr., opened the spigot of a converted soft-serve ice cream machine and filled a glass with a history-making pale green slush—the world’s first mass-produced frozen margarita. Do not misunderstand: The beverage that emerged from the device was not the first frozen margarita ever; the drink had been around since the blender was introduced in the late thirties. No, this naughty cocktail was much more important. This was the party in a tank that fueled the disco era in Texas, jump-started the national Mexican food craze, and raised the status of tequila from a pariah to a prince among alcoholic beverages. Three decades later the stainless-steel appliance that launched a zillion hangovers sits just inside the front door of Mariano’s Mexican Cuisine on Greenville Avenue in North Dallas. It may have all the glamour of an iced-tea dispenser, but this is the machine that created the national drink of Texas. It is hard to imagine today, but in the late fifties, when Martinez was a teenager waiting tables at El Charro, his father’s Mexican restaurant in Dallas, tequila was unknown to most people in the United States and considered weird by the rest. Flipping through a scrapbook recently in his home office in the city’s affluent Lakewood neighborhood, Martinez remembers those long-ago days: “Customers—they were all Anglos—would show up with a bottle of tequila someone had brought them from Mexico and ask my dad, ‘What do we do with this?’” The elder Martinez would whip up a batch of frozen margaritas using a recipe he had gotten from a bartender at a private club in San Antonio in the late thirties. Made with fresh-squeezed lime juice, Cointreau, and a secret ingredient, the drinks were quite a hit. “The next thing you knew,” Martinez remembers, “the bottle would be empty and the people would be having a great time.”

In 1971, after a ten-year stretch during which he dropped out of high school, played in a rock and roll band, raised considerable hell, and ultimately graduated from Dallas’ El Centro College, the 26-year-old Martinez decided to open his own Mexican restaurant. “I went to my father,” he says, “and asked him if he would give me his special margarita recipe.” His dad agreed. “Papa was a hardheaded person, a private person,” Martinez says, “and it touched me that he was willing to share it. It brought tears to my eyes.” The restaurant opened in April and, thanks to word of mouth and some well-placed free plugs from the gregarious young owner’s

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