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The Real Margaritaville : The cocktail, first concocted for a young showgirl, evokes memories of a special time for its creator.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It started as an experiment, Danny Herrera recalls, something to quench the thirst of a beautiful brunette named Marjorie King.

In the late 1940s, the showgirl and sometime actress was trying to buy the Hotel Rivera del Pacifico in Ensenada, commuting there daily from San Diego and stopping at Herrera’s inn for a drink.

Herrera owned Rancho La Gloria, midway along the old road connecting Tijuana with Rosarito Beach. It was one of the first good restaurants in the area, a watering hole and hostelry just small enough and hidden enough to attract clientele from both sides of the border--including Hollywood personalities.

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“She was allergic to everything except tequila,” Herrera says of Marjorie, then in her late 20s. “But she couldn’t take it straight, or even with the lemon and the salt. But she liked it. So I started experimenting. . . . “

One day’s concoction consisted of three parts white tequila, two parts Cointreau and one partfresh lemon juice. Herrera mixed them, added shaved ice and shook the container. Then he selected a small glass with a short stem, wet the rim with fresh lemon juice, and dipped the rim into salt. He poured some potion into the glass for Marjorie. “She liked it,” he remembers.

And so have countless millions since then, ordering the drink by the name Herrera gave it: Margarita , Spanish for Marjorie.

Herrera, a Tijuana pioneer who will be 90 on July 21, can’t remember precisely when the drink was born: “I think it was around October or November, 1947 or 1948. I’m not positive of the date. Three things happen to you when you get old: You lose your memory and . . . I can’t recall the other two.

“Charles Collingwood of CBS News and his wife, (actress) Louise Allbritton, were staying here then, and they helped me with my experiments. This took several days.

“A lot of people don’t believe me, because the drink is so well known now. But plenty of people know.”

He insists that authentic Margaritas are made only with white tequila; the lemon juice must always be fresh, not canned or frozen. The only acceptable substitution is Triple Sec for Cointreau--either counteracts the lemon’s astringency.

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Word of Herrera’s savory creation spread rapidly, he says. People heard about the drink at Rancho La Gloria and began asking for it in other Mexican bars and in San Diego and Los Angeles.

“The Mexican bartender at the Tail o’ the Cock in Los Angeles was a friend, and I told him how to make it,” Herrera says. “One day I walked in there and he said, ‘Danny, look around. Everybody’s drinking Margaritas.’ ”

Herrera moved to Tijuana in 1929 from Mexicali, and the next year he built the Tijuana slaughterhouse. Later, after the state government paid only part of the bill for machinery and pumps he supplied for a dam project, he had to accept agricultural equipment for the balance.

“I picked out a tractor, a plow, a thresher and a bailing machine to cover some of my loss. But what to do with it? A friend in Los Angeles owned 6,000 acres here. He called it La Joya, and he gave me 100 acres,” Herrera says.

So, he became the first settler of the Tijuana area that soon became known as La Gloria, named for his daughter. (The name recently was officially changed to San Antonio de los Buenos).

In 1932, he and his wife had a shack to live in, a fence, a cow, some chickens and a well. As soon as they could, they built a home--with a bar--behind the shack.

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“Ours was the only home around with a bar in it. So we had lots of company, and we decided we’d have to start charging,” he says. “Then we went into business, and all our friends disappeared.”

So their first home became the restaurant “around 1935,” serving Mexican food, mixed drinks, beer and wine. Within two years, they had an international menu.

Herrera constructed the first 10 motel rooms in 1940 and later built a swimming pool, a 16-unit, two-story addition and four rooms he called the Governor’s Suite. In 1960 he built his present home at the rear of the grounds. He sold everything except his home in 1971, and the motel-restaurant has since been converted into a hospital for cancer patients.

But Herrera and others had 40 glorious years there.

“Vincent Price was a regular every New Year’s Eve,” Herrera says. He, Phil Harris and Alice Faye became close friends, still are. Mickey Rooney was a frequent visitor. “I knew two of Mickey’s wives, although mainly I was friends with his mother and stepfather,” Herrera says. “Eight wives Mickey had. That’s why he looks so old. I’ve only had seven.”

Herrera complains that no one makes a good Margarita nowadays.

When Gloria and her husband take over a San Diego restaurant this summer, Herrera says he probably will have to stop by to show the bartenders how to make one. You can imagine how he feels about strawberry, blackberry or, no less, wine Margaritas.

And he has no idea where to find the original drink’s namesake, beautiful young Marjorie King. Her hotel project never got off the ground, Herrera says:

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“She couldn’t own it, being a foreigner. She went to an attorney. His advice was to marry him. She did. After the attorney got title to the hotel, he called the immigration on her and they kicked her out of the country.

“The last time I saw her she stopped by and told me, ‘Danny, I’m being kicked out.’ She must have complained to the governor, because the attorney was put in jail in Ensenada. He asked the mayor to let him out for the day because he had some things to do. The mayor gave his permission. He never came back. It caused the mayor to lose his job. It was a big scandal in Ensenada.”

Herrera says neither he nor anyone he knows has heard of Marjorie since:

“I read once where a woman in New York claimed the Margarita was named for her. They didn’t believe her. It didn’t give her name. But I figured it was Marjorie.”

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