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Galveston family makes claim to margarita fame

This National Margarita Day, a local family reminds KPRC of its claim to history

Santos Cruz, Sr. at the Balinese Room in this undated photo
Santos Cruz, Sr. at the Balinese Room in this undated photo (The Cruz Family)

HOUSTON – National Margarita Day might have you remembering the first time you tried a margarita. Was it in a bar or at a friend’s house or somewhere on a beach?

The memories may be fuzzy. That seems to happen with this drink.

Many people claim to have mixed up the first margarita, but it’s unclear who actually has.

However, one Galveston family has made a claim to that fame for years. But it's not fussing about it.

Steven Cruz wrote to KPRC2 Wednesday to share that it was his grandfather Santos Cruz that created the drink at the Balinese Room in 1948.

Santos Cruz Jr., Steven Cruz’s father, explained that the Balinese Room hosted a lot of big-name entertainers.

When singer Peggy Lee came to town, Santos Cruz made a drink that Peggy Lee and her husband, Harry Barber -- fresh from a trip to Mexico -- were sure to enjoy. He whipped up a drink reminiscent of a popular “Sidecar” cocktail. Instead of brandy, triple sec and lime juice, Santos used tequila instead of brandy, and salt – not sugar – to line the glass.

The younger Cruz said Lee liked the drink, and she asked what it was called. His father told her she could call it whatever she wanted. Her husband, according to the younger Cruz, eventually named it the margarita – a take on Peggy's more formal name, Margaret.

Cruz said over the years, his father became known for the drink - and would make it for people who would seek him out in Galveston.

He said, “My father wouldn’t make a big deal about it. ... They would say to patent it, but it just wasn’t what he wanted to do.”

The younger Cruz dismissed others from Texas, Mexico and elsewhere that claim to have created the first margarita. He said the Mexico claims in particular are likely because the tequila is from Mexico.

Galveston.com tracked down a number of people claiming to have made the first margarita, including Margarita Sames, a Dallas socialite. Carlos “Danny” Herrera claimed to have mixed up the drink at a Tijuana restaurant, and Dia Blue, of Jose Cuervo Tequila, also claims to have created it.

But who is the real inventor? We may never really know, but the story is one family legend in Galveston.

The elder Cruz died in December 2005, but the story lives on, obviously passed down from generation to generation. Steven Cruz wrote to KPRC2 Wednesday with his family's story. He said he didn't know the particulars - but pointed us to his father, who still remembers a lot after all of these years.

“I made my first (margarita) with him when I was 10 years old,” Cruz said. “He was the best. He was a perfectionist behind the bar."


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