Frozen In Time

By Michelle Poveda

One of the nation’s most popular drinks, the frozen margarita, was invented right here in San Diego. Cheers to Albert Hernandez, who created the gringo favorite in 1947, at La Plaza restaurant in La Jolla.

Controversy still looms over who invented the original margarita. Some say it was Don Carlos Orozco, a bartender from Husssong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico, who mixed things up in 1941 for Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a German ambassador. Others swear credit should go to Carlos “Danny” Herrera, who supposedly invented the cocktail years earlier at a hotel near Rosarito.

Whatever the drink’s true beginnings, the history of the frozen/blended version goes something like this: In the 1940s, Morris Locke, owner of La Plaza, returned from a trip to Mexico, collaborating with one of his restaurant’s bartenders, Albert Hernandez, to concoct their own version of the sweet and sour drink. Once they fired up the blender, the frozen margarita was born.

Hernandez and his wife, Helen, purchased La Plaza in 1960, when the restaurant moved from Bird Rock to downtown La Jolla. Their son, John Hernandez, has fond memories of the bygone era. “Back in those days, the restaurant staff-all men-dressed to the nines, and my father would tend bar in a starched white shirt, bow tie and black jacket.”

Jose’s Courtroom on Prospect Street now sits on the site that used to be La Plaza. But while the original venue is gone, the legendary beverage carries on.

Shawn Barker, mixologist at Bertrand at Mister A’s and co-owner of Smoke and Mirror Cocktail Co., says tourists are part of the reason the frozen margarita has maintained its popularity. “It’s something that stays cold and is associated with climates like San Diego,” he says, adding that the recent trend of “skinny margaritas,” which is simply the classic recipe sans all the sugar, has given new life to one of the world’s coolest beverages.

What better way place to celebrate history than to enjoy a frozen margarita on Cinco de Mayo at the epicenter of gringodom: Old Town. Barra Barra Saloon’s signature “Best Margarita in Town for only $5" is made with top-shelf Herradura tequila, fresh-made sweet and sour, citrus juices, agave syrup and Cointreau. For $8.95, keep the shaker! It’s 16 ounces of pure historic bliss. Drink two, and the history of the margarita will continue to remain as hazy as ever.

Barra Barra Saloon
4016 Wallace St., Old Town

Frozen Treat
When John Hernandez (son of frozen margarita inventor Albert Hernandez) was working as a sportscaster at a TV station in Anchorage, Alaska, he hired Sarah “I can see Russia from my house” Palin as his intern, which led to her first on-air appearance. Que Sarah Sarah...