Welcome to the Blogarita, where I write about margaritas and pretend to have an opinion worth hearing. There are many reasons why I shouldn't have a Blogarita: My ability as a gustatory discerner is poor (and coupled with mild anosmia), I'm lacking an oligarch to invest in R&D (contact information is at the bottom of the page), and my appreciation for goods is not hypercritical (apart from anything tendered by my family). Nevertheless, I hope this journey elicits laughter and thirst.
It was Saturday, early afternoon. I had planned on writing up a 2-page report on my research in preparation for a Monday meeting, but maybe you're brilliant enough to already doubt this outcome. Two friends and I wandered in search of an outside space. It felt like the first real day of summer. The sun’s warmth was gentle but strong, and for the first time in months, the street noise was more laughter than sirens. It was a magical day that could lift a good-not-great margarita to a spot on a best-of list. We watched them being poured into highballs, their rims now half-salted because of a joke that grew into a serious request. The first sip wobbled my knees. The second caused words to flood from my mouth. But by the end, the three of us existed in a state of tranquility and awe. Summer had arrived, announced ceremoniously from the two great providers of life on this planet: the Sun and margaritas.
When you order a $3 frozen margarita, there is typically only one flavor, hangover, and is paired wth one weather descriptor, warm. Brother Jimmy’s that evening defied both standards, so I was surprised and excited when it wasn’t overly sweet. It was tart and had the same amount of tequila you might expect a bar to pre-mix for serving its patrons en masse. But the value was there and I was good for more than one. If Corona can help you find your beach, these margs will transport you to Tahiti. It's a shame the service is so bad at Jimmy's, but I guess I don't need an excuse to order more than one each time I order.
Most E. coli strains are harmless. Most harmful strains don’t find their way into our food. Most of the food at Chipotle last year was edible (although some might disagree for other reasons). But all it takes is a few dozen leaky customers to tarnish a reputation. The franchise by NYU has had noticeably fewer humans inside this last year. But those humans swear the kitchen has fewer other kinds of organisms too. And the brand was so strong before it tried to take down the sewer infrastructure that the only thing that’s changed for the Chipotle loyalists is the quiet shame they hold. This is where I come in. I’m not one of them, but one Friday, I found myself staring up at the menu with the last few holdouts from a particularly fervent happy hour. Normally, the calorie counts next to food items are a discourager, but there are exceptions. This particular rule break came off an odd recommendation I received from a friend more than a year prior: Try the Chipotle margarita. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. Oh, and just an extra $2 to bump it to the Patron level? It came in one of those large, translucent plastic cups. It came on ice. If you’re one of the millions that read the Blogarita regularly, you’ll know I tend to take them on ice, with salt. I really like the salt. This came with no salt. I tried the Chipotle margarita. I was pleasantly surprised. It had a nice amount of tartness (that’s a word, I swear). I could taste the tequila but it wasn’t overpowering. Because I wanted to enjoy the drink, I didn’t let the existential crisis in until I was finished. How did this happen? Shouldn’t I have a better sense of what type of place would excel in margarita making? What if my failure here was just one example of my inability to properly valuate goods based on their brand? Is the salt at Friendly’s special? Is it possible that the interior decor at McDonald’s is world class? Does Coca Cola come in amazing aluminum cans? This was a maturing experience. The world is complicated. Part of me wishes I’d have gotten sick from the margarita so I could return to a place of innocence. If you’re looking for the rest of me, I’ll be at Chipotle.
You remember exactly where you were when you learned about the tragedies of 9/11, when you had your first kiss. I remember where I was when I first heard that the EU officially endorsed insects for human consumption. Brilliant. We can farm them in mass numbers because no one gives a damn about their well being, they're full of protein, and everyone likes a good crunch. Now, I was never one of those kids who ran around in the woods stuffing dirt or worms in my mouth, but I am still upset with my friend - who first recommended The Black Ant - because he didn't inform me (1) that they have fantastic margaritas, and (2) that those margaritas have crushed ants in the margarita salt.
Ew, gross Awesome. I can't say I would have known that the black specks on the rim were ants, so it is possible that they used a cheap non-insect ant substitute. But this was a fine establishment so it couldn't possibly be (where does one even buy restaurant-grade ants?). The salt definitely tasted unique, but as I admit in the Blogarita preamble, I'm not great at tasting stuff. But this is great! It means you have to go to the Black Ant (a.k.a., on only some of their menus, La Hormiga Negra) and describe the taste. I would say Lays should come out with ant-flavored chips. Would you?
Earth-toned hills defined the horizon. Warm, dry air puffed out towering sails, carrying humbled mariners down the Columbia. Stories ricocheted between cousins and laughter resonated across the hardwood table. The blueberry-raspberry reduction danced between the stimulating tequila and chilling ice shreds. Sugar-rimmed refreshment went in, smiles came out.
I never knew until five minutes ago whether this drink's name is unique to Bomber's or if I haven't gotten out enough. The fact that Schenectady will appear on a Google search for "Jimbo margarita beer" is all the evidence you need. I don't know why it's called a Jimbo but here's my best guess: One link to Bomber's menu has it listed as JiMBo, emphasizing an acronym. They're always served in mason jars, so Jar of Margarita and Beer seems reasonable. Or the owner (Union College alum) has a friend named James. Either way. It's served unmixed, but the straw grants access to both layers. While visually pleasing, the margarita on the bottom is only pretty good and the Dos Equis on top is not. Once mixed though, a delight is born. It would bring me such joy to see this drink catch on. But if that doesn't happen, I'll just have to make my way to Schenectady for a little shot at heaven.
While discussing Bomber's, it would be anti-margarita to not mention their birthday margaritas, which cost exactly $0 if you can prove your birthday (sorry, Leap Day babies). Served in a giant martini-glass, these are for sharing, even for ambitious college students.
These margaritas had a reputation. I'd heard about them during the countless minutes of trivial conversation about the reason I was in Florida to begin with. Planes full of vision scientists annually gather at the beach near Tampa to discuss eyeballs, brains, coordination, fish tacos and daiquiris. Since I managed to convince enough people that I, too, had something interesting to say, I had the privilege of traveling there as well. Naturally my advisor and his buddies rent a house together each year because it's a social event as much as it is a scientific one. They've all been studying the visual system for more years than my mom has been a mom, so they're well enough practiced at doing science that they've moved on to learning about making guacamole, barbecue, and of course, margaritas. Luckily for me, they showcase these skills at a party one night each year during the week-long conference.
The rental house was far and away more flamboyant than you'd expect a group of aged scientists to seek out. The colors and glass design were almost enough to distract me from my task of trying one of these famous margaritas. I overheard that they were being made to order, so I tracked down the margarita man, a scientist out of the strong vision program in Berkeley, California. I sheepishly introduced myself and put in the request. He never seemed insulted that I did both of those tasks in the same short interaction, which I took to be a good sign of his confidence in the margarita's quality. Waiting patiently for him to make mine and ten others, I chatted with my neighbors, only half watching his craft. Lemon juice. Cointreau, nice. Milagro tequila, feels more Jersey Shore than Berkeley, but okay. On the rocks, salted. "Thanks! And nice to meet you!"
I winced. A labmate had mentioned earlier that hers was really strong. Mine had a different affliction. Was this a mistake? Is the guy losing it? My advisor doesn't seem like the type to prank but it's my first time at this conference and his colleagues seem looser than he is. I stood nearby as more margaritas were made, watching a little more closely now. He turned to me, "Oops, I almost gave her a cup with just lemon juice!" To be fair, I think mine had a dash of Cointreau in it.
I'd moved away from the margarita station by the time the ice was nearly melted. Almost no volume was gone from my cup. I was never going to make a fuss. I was never going embarrass the hosts. Some labmates asked how it was expectingly. All I could do was smile to hint at the issue without the benefit of privacy. And so until I could grab a beer, my mouth stayed closed to both speech and sour.
For those not familiar with the sliver of City culture that deals in repurposing reality for the honorable sake of irony, Trailer Park is a white trash-themed bar with inside walls coated in trinkets, PBR cans on the menu, and hair in your food, but where patrons dressed in oxfords and pink button downs can fit in and feel good about the "A" health inspection grade. While you don't typically find Trailer Park Bar on a list of Best Margaritas in New York City, or at least not the lists that get many hits, I was pleasantly surprised by their blood orange marg. Very sour, and possibly too sweet toward the end, but when leaves the safety of the lime base into blood orange town, a little culture shock is inevitable.
Dinner at Dahlia's was my first meal after moving to New York City. The city air had a buzz, a nearly tangible excitement connected the concrete and the crowd with my fledgling existence there. Now it was time to revisit the spot in search of the perfect margarita. But expectations turned sour and hopes were dashed. I ordered the house on ice, but it came out flat and had the quality of a first-time internet recipe. These are forgivable offenses, even when combined with the minimally salted rim. But Dahlia's inattention to detail carried on. When the waiter asked if I would order another, I politely requested another moment to decide. Five minutes later, though, a new margarita appeared in front of me. I hadn't planned on getting a second. All consistency was lost, too. The second one (of course I drank it) was far sweeter and bore no salt at all. The whole experience was a grand shame, as I don't think I'll be back to try either their flavored margaritas or the drink I was most excited about - upside-down Coronas that flow into and infuse with the large (shareable) frozen margarita.
Have you ever been on your way home, pass a margarita venue, and just decide to postpone the evening routine? This spontaneous margarita owes itself to Burrito Loco, the sibling rival Mexican restaurant of Tio Pepe, Las Ramblas, and The Taco Shop, all of which reside between 166 and 170 W 4th St. I can't explain why Pepe's Restaurant Group decided to shoulder four similarly bred restaurants against each other, but it seems to be working for them. Here's to hoping that if you want a burrito and your cuisine companion wants a taco, you won't have to compromise. My margarita mate and I were in no such debacle.
Our eyes surveyed the ubiquitous list of fruity flavors, each in that stereotypical font that so often characterizes a cheap, beachy margarita menu. We both knew with little internal deliberation that only one flavor in particular, printed on the menu in an off-gold text, could do justice to the hype of the night. "Two mango margaritas, frozen with salt, please." This was a mistake, though. When I order, my rule is generally to request higher-end margaritas on ice and lower-end ones frozen because <insert plausible reason that doesn't make me look foolish here>. But don't cry over spilled margarita, my rule failed for a spectacularly pleasant reason: I inferred from the look and feel of Burrito Loco's menu that the margaritas would kick ass at mediocrity. Here's why they were so much better than that:
The margaritas came adorned with two kinds of salt, including ancho salt (remember that one from Dos Caminos?!). You'd think they'd advertise this specialty, but kudos to them for modesty, unlike Dos Caminos. The mango margarita's ability to refresh perfectly complemented the hot, humid night. It struck a delightful balance between both taste quality versus alcoholic strength, as well as sweet versus sour. I commend Burrito Loco for a job well done. Aplauso, Pepe, aplauso.
The waiter and I were not on the same ~wavelength~ during my entire stay. He needed a credit card to open a tab, as if I had any plan to sneak away from the outdoor table where the sun hit just right or ditch my margarita mate who laughed at my jokes. I fumbled for my card, and I flubbed the request for a salted rim. It really is about time we sat down and worked on our communication. No matter, all you need to know about life is that he brought me a margarita so I tipped him.
Quinn's listed the ingredients for the only margarita on their menu, confirming that your average bar patron (I'm looking at you, weirdos sitting inside rather than out front during summer) hasn't a clue what they're made out of (besides the tequila, of course, which they were careful to advertise as Patron Silver, but less careful about covering it up with too much lime and Triple Sec). If this weren't a standard margarita, it might have made more sense to include the maraschino cherry. Instead, it half-floated beneath the ice, ripped open (see "Crack Not Well Healed" in this USDA cherry grading manual) like a battle wound from fighting off that artificial red color humans are enamored with. But I thought Quinn's equated the cherry in the margarita to the worm in Mezcal, so of course I ate it.
100% organic? That clean, pesticide-free tequila will ruin you for all other margaritas. But I only drink from free-range agave. Just kidding, that's ridiculous. Wild game agave is the only acceptable source. Just like berries growing from bushes in Manhattan are perfectly acceptable to eat. But in seriousness, despite Papatzul's best efforts to advertise their organic tequila, I got a margarita with a different one. They flavored it with hibiscus syrup because flowers are delightful. I can't say I've tried hibiscus anything, but it'll certainly attract my attention next time it's flavoring a macaroon or garnishing a girl's hair. The drink was called La Flor de Jamaica, after the Spanish name for hibiscus tea. Ordering the drink, I butchered the Spanish pronunciation of Jamaica because I couldn't decide to say it in English or sound pretentious by using the correct pronunciation. What came out of my mouth was a combination, making me look like quite the tonto. But that sweet juice put those concerns to rest, agave warming my belly, pesticides warming my soul.
For the first time in my current reincarnated body, I made margaritas from scratch. I think I once plucked a Jose Cuervo margarita mix off the shelf and said that I made them, the drink equalivalent of microwaving Hot Pockets and calling it "cooking." I bought a 2-gallon beverage dispenser for future using in the mass production (but personal use) of cold-brewed coffee and it arrived just in time for a half-baked Cinco de Mayo social gathering (just to be clear, "half-baked" describes the party theme, not the party). If I had to estimate, I'd put the proportions of the several liters each of tequila, Cointreau, and concentrated lime juice at 1.5:1:1, respectively. Freshly squeezed lime juice would have been preferable, but to get a juicer and to squeeze limes for nearly two liters of juice would have broken my wallet, watch, and soul.
I concocted (that word just makes the product sound so special!) a few small batches for taste tests before committing. I got some honest opinions during that process, but it was a little harder during the actual party. A comforting feature of New York City is getting yelled at. I'm no masochist, but it's liberating to know exactly where you stand with someone. Unfortunately, that quality doesn't mean that every person is entirely honest all the time. So, because of my own trust issues, when one of our guests finds out I made the margaritas and then compliments them (compliments me, really), I can't take it as evidence that they're good or bad. What I can use as evidence was the fact that in the morning, only the lime garnish remained at the bottom of the jug - success.
Having been here twice now, I can officially proclaim that I know more than nothing. The jalapeño margarita was spot on, a delectably spicy blend of flavors that some normal person without mild anosmia would be able to distinguish. My more recent memory provides me with an acute sense of how the pitcher of frozen margarita distinguishes itself from the pitcher on the rocks. Here's my take: The frozen was more like a margarita-flavored Icee than a blended drink. I will not slander by calling it weak, but its on-the-rocks counterpart had actual tequila flavor. This came with great benefit, however, because the preference of the table leaned frozen, so I slopped down margs while retaining maximal coherence. I did, of course, have to get home to try out Mind Flex, a kids' brainwave-operated miniature obstacle course, for a neuroscience outreach event. The pitcher experience was a new one for the Blogarita, and it came with two benefits and one downside. First, cynicism: Our glasses were saltless. The benefit of living in a globalized society is that the margarita enthusiast should never have to put up with this. But, optimism: One, complementary chips, salsa, and guacamole. Complementary anything is better than regular anything, and their guacamole was creamy as teddy bears and melted marshmallows. Two, sharing is caring, so sharing margaritas is caring margaritas, or something like that.
What's the result of interacting strong margaritas with smartphone notepad apps that are missing an autosave feature? Lost notes on Carta Azul. The simple, inadequate solution is to recover everything by memory. A real journalist would go back and experience it again. But I am not a real journalist and this is not a real blog, so let's get the going.
These margaritas were actually impressive. That is, they were of high quality, and they left a mark on my mental state. During happy hour, they traffic the house marg badboys at $6, a steal for the quality. As a reference, the specialty drinks are listed at over twice that. Why was this margarita special? You could tell it was actually made, rather than an unskilled minimum wage laborer pouring large quantities of mix before slopping some in my glass. This came on the rocks, deliciously straddling that line between flavor and strength. You could taste the tequila, but it wasn't overpowering. Caveat bibitor: This was NOT one part lime juice, one part liqueur. As Winston Churchill said, "The juice went straight to my hips and the liquor straight to my head" (or was it Marilyn Monroe?).
This outing was the Happy Hour of Superlatives. After a grueling day of convincing our nation's legislators to bolster funding for science research, a margarita was the best possible refreshment. All arguments to the contrary are ill-informed, imbecilic, or as my thesaurus puts it, "nutty as a fruitcake." Naturally, my rim was salted. In fact, this frozen drink had the saltiest salted rim that I've ever put my lips to. I wasn't salty about it, though, and while I don't understand how Tortilla Coast made their salt so extra salty, it was surely welcomed because it cut through the brain freezes, which were undoubtedly the worst that I can remember experiencing. My margarita-mates would have noticed my grimaces, but they were caught up in an hour-long discussion about college sports that the rest of us simply could not participate in (whether it's sports, politics, handbags or cars, you know the kind...). They were fired up but cordial, likely because they only met just before. Unfortunately, this made for the worst of both worlds - neither did I have an opinion to offer nor did I get to enjoy witnessing old wounds torn open and extra salty salt poured inside.
You know that feeling of frustration when your loader breaks every time you use it to clear some rubble? Me neither, but I imagine it's just like when your chips break trying to scoop some guacamole. Come on, Tortilla Coast, pick up your game. The margaritas were poured from those swirling juice mixers, a conspicuous sign that the drinks are made in enormous batches, and that love was not one of the ingredients. How can you enjoy a margarita if it wasn't made with love?
Blockheads is a chain. Their frozen house was made in the same spirit. I would not be surprised if it was made from a knock-off Jose Cuervo mix. This joke about how I feel like a blockhead for even imagining that it would be a drink of any quality was more creative than the drink itself. But for a moment, I'd be divorced from reality if I didn't acknowledge that I relished every sip. The brain freezes were not a welcome companion, but it was sour and refreshing next to my fajita. The takeaways: Uninspired house marg; the Coors light of margs. But a marg's a marg; don't be a marg snob.
If I'm to include Sembrado in the Blogarita, I'm left with no choice but to recreate the experience from vague memories of the mezcal margarita. I might have gotten a second drink. Honestly, I haven't a clue about anything I had there. I have an excuse though! I was on a date, and it would have been rude to ignore her in favor of taking notes.
This place is potentially named for that Southwestern fauna not-so-mysteriously absent from Manhattan, or when that Biblical character hoisted his arms toward the heavens (the Mormons may have provided the causal link here), but I posit that this '80s bar is more directly named for that historic U2 album. Well aligned with its reputation for being a frat-tastic, Jovi-rich dive, my happy hour attendences here have been witness to the groomed yopro/yuppie (depending on your generation) waiting for her date, the middle-aged man falling alseep over a pint, the larger-than-lifesize music video of the J-Lo and Iggy hit "Booty" on 96" HDTVs, and the waitress whose unabating desire to make sure we were all set would make even the least socially anxious among us squirm.
The frozen house margarita (don't expect anything fancy here) is super-sweet, ultra-sour, and considerably twangy. For a happy hour price so reasonable it inspired
Lil Jon's Pete Townshend's artistic creativity, you really can't go wrong.
There's no ambiguity; I was underdressed, but the host thought nothing of it, seating me at a cocktail table immediately facing the entrance. An Hispanic Kevin Spacey wielded a naughty grin as my eyes followed the warm, crisp tortilla chips, their aroma a siren silenced only by the fresh mango and cucumber margarita. Fruity but not overwhelmingly sweet, the Calle Fresca was anointed with ancho salt, a menu buzzword that primarily serves to prove Dos Caminos is just another New York City-bound toll road.