Cocktail of the Month: Toasting National Margarita Day, Feb. 22

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Cinco de Mayo, trips to Mexico, summer, the beach, winter, spring and fall … these are all good occasions to drink a margarita. Obviously, I really don’t need a reason to imbibe one of my favorite (when prepared correctly) cocktails.

There’s something irresistible about the agave tang of good tequila — combined with the tartness of fresh lime, balanced out with a hint of sweetness and finished with the salty smack from the salted rim of my glass.

For those who may be a bit hesitant to sip this classic tipple in the dead of winter, I’m offering an justification that cannot be questioned: Feb. 22 is National Margarita Day.

The margarita — a mixture of tequila, lime and orange liqueur — is an uncomplicated drink. While countless varieties abound (think frozen, flavored and fruited), the basic recipe is an enduring masterwork that continues to stand the test of time.

Mystery surrounds the birth of the margarita and speculation has swirled about its inventor. Perhaps the most credible story is that Carlos “Danny” Herrera invented it at his Tijuana-area restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, around 1938, for one of his customers: part-time actress and showgirl Marjorie King, who was allergic to all hard alcohol other than tequila. He combined the elements of a traditional tequila shot — salt and lime — and turned them into a delightful drink.

When Hererra died in 1992 in San Diego, the Associated Press referred to him as the man “known locally as the man who topped a tequila concoction with salt and called it a Margarita.”

Speaking of showbiz, one story claims the drink was named after actress Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Cansino, in the 1930s, before she adopted her screen name. As a teenager, she worked as a dancer at the Foreign Club in Tijuana. Another tale alleges that it was invented in honor of singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee in Galveston, Texas.

Another credible contender, according to Smithsonian magazine, is Margarita Sames, a Dallas socialite who claimed she whipped up the drink for friends at her Acapulco vacation home. Among her well-connected guests was Nicky Hilton (Conrad, Jr.), who got the drink added to the bar menu at his dad’s hotel chain.

Whatever story is true, we do know from the oral history of people who drank margaritas that the cocktail was concocted sometime in the 1930s.

The frozen margarita was invented in 1971 when Mexican-American restaurateur Mariano Martinez converted a soft-serve ice cream unit into a frozen margarita machine at his restaurant in Dallas. The original machine is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Rumors aside, National Margarita Day is a superb reason to treat yourself to the perfect combination of sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

Being a cocktail town, D.C. has no shortage of places to celebrate on Feb. 22. Zagat, the food bible, recommends El Chucho in Columbia Heights and José Andrés’s Oyamel Cocina Mexicana in Penn Quarter. Yelp reviewers ranked Tico DC in the U Street corridor as having the number-one margarita, with Georgetown’s El Centro D.F., coming in at number four. Eater DC gives props to Aqua 301 near the Navy Yard.

If you prefer to mix your own, the key thing to remember is that the margarita is a simple drink. There’s no need to get fussy. Just be sure to use fresh lime juice and good liquor.

The Margarita

Recipe from the International Bartenders Association

1.5 ounces Tequila
I enjoy a bold flavor, so I use reposado tequila. If you prefer a milder taste, use silver. Only use 100 percent agave tequila. I like La Certeza or Cazadores.
1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce orange liqueur
I’m fond of Solerno blood orange liqueur, but Cointreau is also a great choice.

Pour the tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur into a shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with crusted salt (optional).

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