Did Peggy Lee Really Inspire The Margarita?

It’s said the margarita has been named after many stars, among them Peggy Lee, who some have claimed inspired the drink in Galveston, Texas.

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Photo courtesy of the Peggy Lee estate

Whether a blessing or a curse, fame – measured today by the number of social media followers a celebrity has – can bring its privileged recipients vast wealth, power, and influence. But there are other, smaller, and more obscure benefits for those whose lives and careers are touched by stardom. Some famous people have been honored by having their names associated with fossils (Johnny Depp), airports (John Lennon), crabs (Michael Jackson and David Hasselhoff), dinosaurs (Mark Knopfler), and ferns (Lady Gaga). And no shortage of stars have had drinks named after them – arguably none of which are as iconic as the margarita, which, legend has it, was named after Peggy Lee.

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How did the margarita get its name?

Among the stars who have had beverages named after them are Hollywood actresses Mary Pickford and Jean Harlow, and singers such as Janis Joplin and, more recently, David Bowie. One of the world’s best-known cocktails is supposed to have been inspired by the legendary jazz singer Peggy Lee, who was an enthusiast of the so-called “devil’s brew.” Given that, it is no surprise, perhaps, that she inspired a bartender to concoct a drink in her honor.

That drink was the margarita, which, according to legend, was invented in 1948 when the North Dakota singer (whose real name was Norma Deloris Egstrom) sat at the top of the US pop charts with her Latin-inspired song “Mañana (Is Soon Enough For Me).” During that time, she performed at the Balinese Room, built on Galveston pier in Texas. It was there that the venue’s bartender, Santos Cruz, a devout Lee fan, purportedly combined tequila with triple sec and served it to the singer with a wedge of lime in a salt-rimmed glass. His name for it, margarita, was a Spanish version of “Margaret,” from which derives the diminutive name Peggy.

"Mañana" (Official Video) - Peggy Lee

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Peggy Lee’s favorite drink

A discussion on the fan forum page of Lee’s website, in the wake of the singer’s death in 2002, speculated on her role in the creation of the margarita. Though some deemed the link to be tenuous, one fan claimed to have visited the Balinese Room and witnessed documentation there authenticating the creation of the drink, which was a variation of Lee’s supposed favorite tipple, a cocktail called The Sidecar. Ironically, in 2008, Hurricane Rita destroyed The Balinese Room. Though the venue is no longer standing, Nathan Cruz, the grandson of the venue’s legendary bartender, maintains that his family was responsible for creating the margarita, as inspired by Peggy Lee.

Peggy Lee isn’t, however, the only female star whose history is tied to the tequila-based cocktail. Some contend that flame-haired Hollywood movie siren Rita Hayworth was its inspiration, while others say that one Marjorie King, a Ziegfeld dancer, had the cocktail made in her honor in Mexico by Carlos “Danny” Herrera in 1938. A well-heeled American, Margarita Sames, from Dallas, vehemently disputed this, claiming she created the drink for her friends at her holiday home in Acapulco. To add more confusion, Jose Cuervo – the famous Mexican tequila company – stated in one of their adverts that the cocktail’s genesis can be traced back to Palm Springs in 1938, thanks to a Mexican showgirl called Rita De La Rosa.

While the provenance of the margarita is shrouded in mystery, one thing is abundantly clear: the drink’s popularity has grown exponentially over the years – so much so that, on every February 22, the US celebrates National Margarita Day. Now, of course, the drink can be bought pre-mixed in cans, bottles, and even frozen pouches, so there is no reason to travel to Galveston – or even Palm Springs or Mexico – to taste it. Cheers, everyone! (Or, as they say down Mexico way: salud!)

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