Any local bartender knows that the margarita is the most popular drink throughout Santa Fe. Every tourist wants one, and all the locals have their own variation. Tequila was popularized in the United States during Prohibition. While rum-runners and moonshine producers went underground, spirits like tequila, which is made from the agave plant, were smuggled across the Mexican border and soaked their way into the fabric of our drinking habits. Here in New Mexico, where Prohibition was largely ignored, one could say that tequila runs through our blood as much as it flows through our bars.
As with many classic cocktails, some mystery surrounds exactly who invented the margarita. Some believe that it was created in Tijuana in 1938. Others say it first graced a glass in Los Angeles, and some insist a Dallas socialite whipped it up at her Acapulco mansion around that same period. Regardless of its origins, we can't get enough.
The word margarita means "daisy" in Spanish, and a daisy is one classification of mixed drink, very close to a sour (spirit, sweet, citrus). With regard to the classic margarita, that would entail tequila, fresh lime juice, orange liqueur and maybe a kiss of agave nectar. As with all classic cocktail variations, swapping out the spirit or modifier creates a new drink. For example, when substituting cognac for tequila, lemon juice for lime juice, and a salt rim for a sugar rim, the daisy variation is called a sidecar. But that is a topic for another article.
The margarita is so popular in our area that city tourism officials even recently launched our very own Santa Fe Margarita Trail, set to kick off on Cinco de Mayo. Booklets with a map to some of the most celebrated drinks in town will be available for $2 from the Tourism Santa Fe office on Marcy Street. In the meantime, I've selected some of my favorite versions of tequila drinks, featuring unique twists on the margarita. Salud!
Smoked Sage, Secreto (210 Don Gaspar Ave., 983-5700): This signature margarita has received lots of attention, both in and out of town, for good reason. Fresh lime juice, agave nectar, Azunia tequila and Cointreau are infused with the smoke of sage leaves, made to order. Once guests see the inverted mixing cup capturing the wafting aroma of burning sage leaves, everyone in the place wants one. ($11)
Strawberry Jalapeño Margarita, Inn and Spa at Loretto (211 Old Santa Fe Trail, 988-5531): Herradura silver tequila is infused with strawberries and jalapeños, then shaken with fresh lime juice, Cointreau, pomegranate juice and a little agave nectar. A fruity, spicy way to gear up for warm-weather cocktailing. ($12)
Norteño, Geronimo (724 Canyon Road, 982-1500): Green chile is a way of life in Santa Fe, so infusing it into agave spirit makes for a true New Mexican sipping experience. This drink has a hint of savory spice and a whole lotta locally grown love. ($12)
Señorita, Coyote Café (132 W Water St., 983-1615): Bringing a little molecular excitement to the local scene, the salted lime foam atop this margarita is both sophisticated and sassy, which is what we love about dining and drinking at Coyote. ($12)
House Margarita, Radish & Rye (548 Agua Fría St., 930-5325): This fancy house margarita rivals specialty drinks on other lists. Made with muddled orange, housemade blood orange sour, lime juice and Herradura silver tequila, the inverted half-lime garnish filled with a little flavor booster is especially fun. Mine held a sip of late harvest wine—a creative and interactive twist. ($13)
Tequila Mockingbird, Sage Inn (725 Cerrillos Road, 982-5952): A refreshing blend of pineapple and lime juices, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Espolon blanco and muddled jalapeño makes for an ideal sipper on one of Santa Fe's newest, and coziest, patios as spring settles in. $8.50
Spiced Manzana, Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi (113 Washington Ave., 988-3030): This yummy drink lies somewhere between a margarita and a sidecar. It includes Patron barrel select reposado tequila mixed with lime juice, apple cider and spiced syrup. The cinnamon and sugar rim makes it a tasty after-dinner treat, too. ($16)
Jalapeño Margarita, El Farol (808 Canyon Road, 983-9912): If you think spice is nice, this is the drink for you! Muddled jalapeño is shaken with Tanteo jalapeño tequila, lime and orange liqueur. It's even garnished with a jalapeño slice to wake up the weariest of taste buds. ($12)
House Margarita, Matador (116 W San Francisco St., 984-5050): If you believe this cozy bar is just a late-night beer-and-shot joint, you are missing out on their early evening cocktail scene. Their bartenders love to surprise guests with classic and creative drinks, and it's a great deal for a pint-sized margarita made with fresh orange and lime juices to keep your party going at any hour. ($12)