This is my 20th post for Martini Mandate. In researching this blog I have expended many pleasant hours in some fine bars around the world, drinking fabulous cocktails. In the search for the hippest new bar or the coolest new cocktail we sometimes forget why we drink. We drink because it is plain bloody fun. It is how we relax after a hard day. It is how we let out hair down with friends. It is how we celebrate. It frequently substitutes for foreplay.
Some of my fondest drinking memories involve that most famous tequila based cocktail, the margarita. I went to university at a small liberal arts college outside Philadelphia. The campus was located in a “dry town”, i.e. no alcohol could be sold either in stores or in restaurants. To get around this vexing legal problem the school had a sensible policy of providing free booze at all campus parties. My fraternity, Delta Upsilon, threw some of the more outrageous parties on campus, usually resulting in some ruckus with the campus administration or the local police. The parties were fun, they were memorable and someone usually got hurt. Apart from the usual toga parties and beer slides (men in underwear competing to see how far they could slide on a beer lubricated floor), our Margaritaville parties were a featured item on the campus social calendar.
The parties were themed after the song Margaritaville, by Jimmy Buffett. Florida based Buffett (with his band the Coral Reefers…) mostly sings about eating, drinking, sunbathing, getting tattooed, and sleeping with Mexican cuties. Margaritaville aside, his other hits include “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and the classic anthem “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw“. I know the words to these songs by heart – do click on the links, it’ll take you back to a kindler, gentler time!
The DU Margaritaville parties usually involved mixing the classic “Upside Down Margarita”. This is a delicately mixed cocktail made to the classic 3:2:1 ratio of spirits (tequila), sweet liqueur (triple sec) and citrus (lime juice). The drinker relaxes in a low chair with his head lolling backwards, supported by the bartender (or a girlfriend if available). A protective towel is placed around his neck and shirt front, much as in a barber shop. The cocktail ingredients are then poured directly into the drinker’s mouth; a highly skilled process since bartenders vie to pour the individual ingredients from a great height without splashing. The drinker’s head is gently shaken to blend the ingredients before they are swallowed. This to me, encapsulates the true spirit of drinking. The company of friends, camaraderie and a bloody good time.
There are many bars in London that make superbly crafted margaritas, using 100% agave tequila and finely honed techniques. My favourites include the Mandarin Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel which makes many cocktails themed after several cities around the globe where the Mandarin Oriental has a presence. Go there for unique twists on familiar drinks – the sake based drinks from the Japanese section of the cocktail menu are particularly interesting. The bar itself is shaped like a catwalk and the walls of beige silk create a rich, inviting cocktail lounge. Of course the burgers at Bar Boulud in the same hotel are a good excuse to pop downstairs to the restaurant. The lounge at Novikov , the Russian owned uber restaurant makes a great margarita as well, served by impossibly tall Eastern European women with a good command of Russian.
For good old fashioned fun though, I like the margaritas at Cafe Pacifico. I first visited here in the early 1990’s when London was a rather barren place. This is not a trendy bar – it’s actually an Aussie owned dive operating out of what was once a banana warehouse in Covent Garden. The serving staff consists of good humoured American and Australian college students. The margaritas are as I remember them – best ordered by the jug. The nachos are plentiful and cheap. The food is nothing to write home about, but will help absorb the alcohol. It’s the kind of place where it’s hard not to have a good time. Go with friends – or make some new ones. The spirit of Margaritaville is alive and well in London!
Mixing the classic margarita. This video from Mr Barrelproof echews the normal 3:2:1 formula for a 2:1:1 variant. It works pretty well. Try this at home.
Read a review of Bar Boulud from the blog In Pursuit of Food.