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Celebrate National Margarita Day with one of Denver's five best

Yesterday may have been a day of indulgence for those of you who used Mardi Gras as an excuse to stuff yourself with pancakes and get sloshed on Hurricanes. But if you're still going strong, you'll want to know that today is probably the best arbitrary hedonistic holiday of the...
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Yesterday may have been a day of indulgence for those of you who used Mardi Gras as an excuse to stuff yourself with pancakes and get sloshed on Hurricanes. But if you're still going strong, you'll want to know that today is probably the best arbitrary hedonistic holiday of the whole year. That's right: February 22 is National Margarita Day.

A few local spots are offering specials today -- but then, many Denver restaurants make margaritas that are pretty special every day of the year.

In celebration of this ad hoc holiday, we've looked back at how the margarita came into this world -- and like the origins of so many classic cocktails, this one is cloudy at best: Stories pin the margarita's invention to anywhere between the late 19th century and the early 1950s.

Those pushing the earlier date see the margarita not so much as an invention as an evolution: The daisy -- a cocktail made with a spirit base plus citrus and sweetener -- was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so a tequila daisy isn't much of a stretch. Given that the word margarita also happens to be Spanish for daisy, that's an easily tied up tale.

The rest of the theories revolve around both Mexican and American bartenders and their patrons: Don Carlos Orozco mixed the first one in 1941 at Hussong's Cantina in Ensenada for Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a German Ambassador; Enrique Bastante Gutierez made one for Margarita "Rita" Hayworth in the 1940s; socialite Margarite Soames invented the drink accidentally while playing around with Cointreau and tequila and popularized it at parties. Since Hollywood types were definitely sipping the cocktail in the 1930s and 1940s, though, many of these stories can be quickly discredited.

Despite its acceptance by the elite, the cocktail hovered on the outskirts of popular consciousness until the 1960s or 1970s. Once the drink broke through, though, it didn't take long for it to be injected with flavored syrup, tossed in the slushie machine and even made without, ahem, tequila.

Today's margarita recipes are as varied as the accounts of the drink's history, though the most classic is probably two parts tequila, one part triple sec and one part fresh-squeezed lime juice, shaken and served on the rocks in a salt-rimmed glass. Some recipes up that ratio to four parts tequila, cut the citrus to just a dash or add in sugar -- or substitute simple syrup for triple sec altogether. Less classic variations even finish the drink with a splash of orange juice...or beer. Oh, and the coin-style margarita? Mostly brilliant marketing on the part of Cointreau, which is just another triple sec (albeit a better triple sec than whatever is in the well at most high-volume bars).

So why is National Margarita Day February 22? As far as we can tell, it's an arbitrary designation, a Hallmark card-like ploy to sell more tequila in the middle of winter. As if we need an excuse to drink.

If you're inclined to celebrate this august holiday -- and we certainly are -- we recommend seeking out one of Denver's five best margaritas: El Diablo If it's tequila-fueled debauchery you're after, we can imagine few better places to go than this devilish Broadway den, where the ornate bar, glowing under antique glass lights, is conducive to ordering round after round of tequila and mezcal-focused drinks. Variations on the margarita abound, but the house margarita, a classic and tart blend of blanco tequila, triple sec and lime juice, is refreshing and endlessly drinkable, transporting you straight to the border, even in the middle of winter. Lola Lola is a stronghold of coin-style margs, and though we just wrote that off as marketing, we certainly don't hold it against this joint, where we've whiled away afternoons and evenings drinking our way through the list. Each margarita is just a slight variation on the tequila-Cointreau-lime juice formula; only the brand of tequila changes. That makes it a good place to determine whether you're a fan of light, refreshing silver or heady, complex añejo in your drink. Have one of each for, uh, research purposes. Special mentions also go to Lola's sibling restaurants in Boulder: Centro and Zolo both make several stellar variations on the margarita theme; Zolo is also an excellent place to get a comprehensive tequila education. The Pioneer We know, we know. The Pioneer is not a Mexican joint, it's a sports bar near a college, the kind of place you'd think would just serve up cheap beers and shots of Jameson to college students looking to guzzle their way to black-out as fast as possible. And sure, the Pioneer serves those things -- but there aren't many people drinking them. Instead, they're drinking margaritas. Great margaritas, made with fresh lime juice, triple sec and blanco tequila, served in pint glasses with a salted rim. And they go down a whole lot smoother than a shot of Jame-o. Pinche Taqueria The Pinche Taqueria cocktail list is a cheeky representation of all manner of Mexican cocktails and spirits, each one worthy of your attention. But the place made sure to nail down its house margarita before venturing out into more creative territory, and we appreciate that. The classic blend of tequila and Cointreau and plenty of mouth-puckering lime juice is sweetened with a squirt of simple syrup. Our only gripe is that you can't order these margs by the pitcher. El Camino El Camino has a tequila list three pages long, not counting the flights, and offers many varieties of margs. But we're partial to the house version, a basic mixture of lime juice, triple sec and El Jimador Blanco, a sexy, smoky, 100 percent blue-agave tequila that goes down smooth. Served in a rocks glass rimmed with coarse salt, it packs a refreshing sweet-tart punch and is so easily quaffed that it's almost impossible to say no to another round. This drink earned our Best Margarita award in the Best of Denver 2011, and it's the margarita to beat in 2012.

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