Who invented the margarita, and when did it happen? There is no quick answer to that question except: ¿Quién sabe? Who knows? From the mid-1930’s onward, at least a score of margarita origin myths sprang up in bars from Tijuana to Palm Springs. The most widely repeated one is that of a Dallas dame with a party house in Mexico.

Basically all the stories boil down to somebody blowing their own horn, saying, “Hey, it was me, I invented the margarita,” with precious little solid documentation to back it up. (That, by the way, is the case with the widely circulated claim of party animal Margarita Sames, the late aforementioned Dallas socialite. She said she concocted the drink in 1948 at her Acapulco house, but that was years after the word “margarita” was in widespread use.) 

But enough with the fuzzy history. We may never pinpoint the inventor, but something else intrigues me, and that is the cocktail culture of the time. When the margarita was coming into its own, three tantalizingly similar drinks were in circulation: the picador, the sidecar, and the daisy. Any bartender worth his salt (pun intended) would have known them and would have been fully capable of coming up with variations. So I ask: Did one of this trio inspire the drink that ultimately achieved cocktail immortality? We won’t ever know that either, but it’s fun to speculate—preferably by the pool with a drink in hand.

The Picador

Eerily similar to a margarita, the picador (named for the dude who jabs the bull with a lance in a bullfight) is mentioned in the iconic Cafe Royal Cocktail Book, published in London in 1937.

1/2 part fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4 part Cointreau
1/2 part tequila

Combine ingredients and shake. Commenting on his website (where I found the above recipe), Andrew Nicholls muses: “Is it possible that the same drink was created on opposite sides of the Atlantic, differing only in name? Or … that the Margarita was actually created in London under the name Picador in the early 1930′s and changed name after reaching the U.S.A? My advise [sic] on the matter is make the above recipe, call it what you like then sit back and ponder. If by the end of the drink you still have no answer, make yourself another and try again.…” Recipe from andrewnicholls.com.

The Sidecar

Next we have the sidecar, a brandy-and-citrus-based drink whose origins are themselves cloaked in mystery. According to Wikipedia, it probably was invented around the end of World War I in either London or Paris, possibly at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The place that made it most famous, though, is Harry’s Bar, also in Paris. Variations are legion, including this one for a tequila sidecar. Sugar on the glass rim is traditional.

2 ounces gold tequila
1 ounce triple sec
1 ounce lemon juice
lemon twist

Add the tequila, triple sec, and lemon juice to an ice-filled martini shaker. Shake well and strain into a martini glass rimmed with sugar. Garnish with a lemon twist. Recipe from wiki.webtender.com.

The Daisy

The third possible inspiration for the margarita is the daisy, a cocktail dating to the late 1800’s that was immensely popular in the early-twentieth-century United States. Many types of base liquor were used, and tequila daisies were actually mentioned in 1936 in the Syracuse Herald (isn’t the Internet wonderful?). Eventually the daisy fell out of favor, but consider this: The word for “daisy” in Spanish is “margarita.”

1/2 ounce grenadine (Cointreau is not in this particular recipe but can be substituted)
juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 ounces tequila
club soda

Shake grenadine, lime juice, and tequila with ice cubes. Strain into a goblet one-third filled with shaved ice. Fill remainder of glass with chilled club soda. Recipe from “Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide” (1972).