Thoughts of Spring in the land of the “real” Margaritaville

Happy Spring everyone.

For no particular reason on this beautiful first day of Spring I was thinking of a Margarita. If you touch adult beverages, whether sometime or damn near all the time you probably have your mouth set for something or other every now or then. That isn’t to say you don’t have your favorite — a shot of vodka, diet tonic and splash of lemon — but there are days in which excellence is rewarded. That isn’t to say anyone can make a decent Margarita nor may one find such a tasty reward just anywhere.

The secret to the best Margarita isn’t the ingredients, although you sure as hell don’t want to pour some unknown store-bought mixture on top of a shot Jose Cuervo and leave it at that. No, you want the mixture concocted with love or else a sense of purpose. Some of the best Margaritas I’ve tasted were in small settings of friends with the barman who takes pride in the mixture of frosty green paradise in a glass.

I hope some day to return to the site of the best Margarita to pass between my lips. It has been awhile.

Some say the Kentucky Club in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, is the site where the first Margarita was mixed and served.

Chance are, a place that served drinks back in the day and is still tending bar has to be a place to find a drink or two.
The Kentucky Club in Juarez, paradise!

Outside, the Kentucky appears as just another hole-in-the-wall not far from the pedestrian bridge at the border of El Paso and Juarez. Inside, however, is living history. The bar itself is made of magnificent hardwoods. There is no telling how old the trees themselves were when brought down to build the long bar in perhaps in the 1920s. American celebrities from Clark Gable to Elvis to Marilyn were said to have drank here. A number of photos of the famed customers used to line the walls, I don’t know if they still do as it has been about 10 years since I last visited both Juarez and the Kentucky.

That isn’t to say I haven’t been near Juarez during the past decade. I have a close friend who lives in El Paso and, for many years, my visits to El Paso ultimately included a visit across the border. But all that changed when the immense violence from rival drug gangs commenced. It pushed the death toll in Ciudad Juarez to almost 9,000 people between 2007 and 2011.

It looked a few years ago that a shutdown might be in store for the “birthplace” of the Margarita. That might have meant the end of careers for people whose lives were spent working behind those rich hardwood bars, for those who went to work at the Kentucky Club usually ended up staying for the long haul.

But changes seem to be slowly taking place. Last year, “only” 750 homicides were recorded in Juarez. We speak of a city with a population of some 1 million less than Chicago. The Windy City which is notorious for murders saw slightly more than 500 homicides last year.

Only the slightest resemblance may be seen between “that frozen concoction” Jimmy Buffett made famous in the 1970s and the straight-up chilled, salt-rimmed drink or on the rocks that is the real taste of Margarita found at the “Kentucky Bar.” While a tequila-filled ice slush is a sweltering-day’s treat, it is the simple non-frozen drink that rekindles the romance of gringo’s discovery of another world.

Hopefully, the violence will end sometime soon and Ciudad Juarez will once again be the enjoyable trek to Mexico we once knew, and the home of the Margarita we once loved.

Cheers to Spring!



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