From Jane Alonso. Her passion for food and spirits leads her on frequent excursions into Borderstan’s land of bars and restaurants. Email her at jane[AT]borderstan.com
Margaritas are rarely my drink of choice unless I happen to find myself in a bar on Cinco de Mayo. I love tequila, but I find the margarita mix used by most bartenders to be too cloyingly sweet for my taste. However, given the chance to attend this year’s Margarita March, I decided to give this classic another look.
Organized by Beerathon LLC, the team behind the DC Whiskey Walk, the Margarita March last Saturday gave ticket-paying participants the opportunity to sample margaritas in eight Borderstan restaurants — Alero, Ben’s Next Door, Nellie’s, Bar Rouge, La Villa, Judy Restaurant, G. Stoney’s and Tabaq. Armed with my ticket, I set off for an afternoon of drinking amid the crowds.
First, it is worth noting the history on this popular cocktail. Contrary to what many probably believe, the margarita isn’t a classic Mexican drink. Like so many things we Americans conceive as “Mexican,” the margarita was actually a cross-border invention.
During Prohibition, Americans crossed the southern border in search of liquor, bringing with them their suggestions for what bartenders should serve. At the time, the “Daisy” was a popular American cocktail consisting of brandy, fruit-based liqueur, and lemon juice. Daisy, is a nickname for Margaret, which is translated in Spanish as “Margarita.” Swap tequila for the brandy and viola — the Margarita was born.
A Margarita done right respects this history of using fresh citrus juice and good quality ingredients. Unfortunately, many bars resort to pre-made artificial margarita mix, which is why I have developed a distaste for the drink over time (not to mention too many bad headaches from all that bad mixing). There were examples of both ends of the spectrum at the 2013 Margarita March.
To call out two winners — Ben’s Next Door and Bar Rouge both had excellent Margaritas made with fresh ingredients and good quality tequila. Bar Rouge in particular went above and beyond with a version made with fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice, cointreau, and real de penjamo tequila, proving that a Margarita can compete with the best.
On the other hand, the Margaritas at Judy Restaurant were being poured by an overworked bar hand from a ratty-looking plastic jug filled with a sickly, greenish color liquid. Tequila was apparently already mixed into the jugs. Hmm. Okay, so presentation isn’t everything — I tried to give the drink a fair review on taste…
But alas… it was pretty bad. Artificially sweet and hardly a hint of tequila. Perhaps the restaurant was too overwhelmed by the crowds to put their best foot forward. Indeed, the poor bartender seemed to not know how to handle the increasingly frustrated patrons waiting for the staff to send more of the ghoulish liquid up from the kitchen.
I suspect that Alero’s Margaritas were also made with an artificial pre-mix, but the festive atmosphere made me feel less critical. Who can be grouchy with lively salsa playing in the background amid piñatas and the smell of fajitas? Even the worst Margarita tastes good in these conditions, which is how most American Mexican restaurants get away with serving such poor versions without a backlash from customers. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
I have one regret from the Margarita March — I very much wanted to try Tabaq’s Margarita, but I was too impatient to wait in the very long line to get into their tiny bar. It’s on my list for next year.
Happy Cinco de Mayo – and if you find some truly excellent Margaritas in Borderstan, we want to hear about them!
From Matty Rhoades and Luis Gomez.
Yes, friends, Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow — and coincidentally the Kentucky Derby. But before we launch into our list of places with specials in the Borderstan area, please remember what you are celebrating (and drinking to) on Saturday.
First, it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day. The 5th of May commemorates the Mexican army’s unexpected victory over French forces in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. What, you ask, what were the French doing in Mexico? Read our preview story to find out (and you may be surprised to learn how some Mexican-Americans view the holiday).
Now, on to the main attraction. Here are 13 spots in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area with Cinco de Mayo specials.
Cinco de Mayo Specials in Borderstan
- Alero, 1301 U Street NW. Drink specials, such as $3.50 Mexican beers and $5.50 margaritas, plus food, outdoor seating and a DJ. What could be better?
- Alero, 1724 Connecticut Avenue NW. An outdoor bar on the patio, DJs and like its sister restaurant on Connecticut, they will have will have margaritas, appetizers and Dos Equis beer for $5 (Dos Equis for $3 after 8 pm).
- Cobalt, 1639 R Street NW. It’s Latin Night (first Saturday of every month) and $4 Coronas.
- Commissary, 1443 P Street NW. Start brunch with Bar Deity Mario Alfaro’s Bloody Mary, made with Commissary’s own jalapeno-infused tequila. The real party though begins at 4 pm, as Commissary rolls out the Happy Hour Specials. Select from the full menu of Margarita specials that include Fried Pulled Pork and Queso Freso Empanadas. Play the raffle game to win prizes, every hour on the hour (including an invitation for two to the May opening of The Pig.) Live entertainment features Latin Guitarist Ricardo Marlow, from 5 to 7:30pm. Reservations accepted.
- El Centro D.F., 1819 14th Street NW. “Special party to celebrate 150 years of Cinco de Mayo. $35 Bottomless Brunch starting at 11am until 5:00pm. After 6:00 the celebration moves to the rooftop $20 cover with music, $4 Mexican Beer and $5 Margaritas.”
- JR’s Bar & Grill, 1519 17th Street NW. “$5 frozen margaritas, $5 Coronas $5 rail vodka highballs $4 Coors light.”
- Judy Restaurant, 2212 14th Street NW. $3 Coronas and Dos Equis for $2.50. And, Judy’s has a live band every Saturday night.
- La Frontera, 1633 17th Street NW. Tecate and Corona beer and tequila for $3 from 3 to 7 pm. Cantina taco specials for $8.95. Remember: You get a great view of 17th Street, outdoor seating, and prime party-hopping potential.
- Lauriol Plaza, 1835 18th Street NW. It’s been Cinco de Mayo all week long. On Saturday, “Expect crowds, drink specials, and mariachi bands at this always-packed Tex-Mex hot spot. Also they will have the Cinco de Mayo Party Bus — Mariachis included.
- MOVA, 2204 14th Street NW.“We have a full day of events. Latin Soul DC is holding a party and we open at 3 pm… all-day $5 tequila, beer and Finlandia vodka drink specials. Two live performances in the evening.”
- Nellie’s Sports Bar, 900 U Street NW. Nellie’s will offer $4 Coronas and $4 drink specials. In addition, their $15 beer buckets include Corona for Cinco de Mayo.
- Policy, 1904 14th Street NW. “Party time, from 1 to 8pm for “Cinco de Mayo Meets Kentucky Derby”! DC, Come in your favorite boat shoes and a Sombrero to receive $3 Mint Juleps or Margaritas! Not feeling so adventurous, $5 for you!”
- Tortilla Coast, 1460 P Street NW. The celebration here started on Wednesday: “Have your picture with a life size cut-out of The Most Interesting Man in the World, and enjoy Dos Equis Amber and Lager at happy hour prices. Friday is margarita mixing with Cointreau Noir night and Saturday join the fiesta as Tortilla Coast introduces Tanteo Jalapeno Margarita made with infused jalapeno tequila. agave syrup and fresh lime juice.”
Please enjoy responsibly, folks, and here’s to a not too painful Seis de Mayo.
OLD CITY green is hosting its fourth annual fundraiser roast this Saturday from 7 to 10 pm, the “Cinco de Mayo Pig Roast & Garden Fundraiser.” The party is at the garden store at the corner of 9th and N Streets NW.
Cost is $25 and tickets can be purchased online ($30 if you pay on site). All proceeds will support Wangari Gardens, a local gardening project co-founded by Sarah, one of OLD CITY green’s master gardeners.
What to expect? Owner Frank Asher lists the following:
- A locally raised pig roasted by a D.C. celebrity neighborhood chef.
- Roast chicken with achiote provided by Seasonal Pantry.
- Veggie taco fixin’s made with D.C. grown veggies and herbs.
- Bring a Cinco de Mayo inspired dish made with your favorite local ingredients!
Asher says, “Invite friends, family, neighbors, and dates for a fun-filled night of mariachi music, delicious eats, and some great drinks to quench your thirst — think cervezas, margaritas, limeade, sangria.”
From Matty Rhoades. Email him at matty[AT]borderstan.com.
We knew Cinco de Mayo was becoming a serious DC celebration when we got an early notice from a local eatery regarding their plans for the 5th of May (Commissary and sister restaurant The Heights have planned special menus, are even taking reservations, and Commissary has lined up Latin guitarist Ricardo Marlow, from 5 to 7:30 pm.)
BTW, not worry, we’ll have a wrap up for you next week on what local venues are planning for 2012 Cinco de Mayo. But before you start planning your festivities (fortunately the holiday falls on a Saturday this year), and contemplating shots of tequila, let’s take a minute to clear up some common misconceptions about Cinco de Mayo.
No, It’s Not Mexico’s Independence Day
First, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. In 1861, the French invaded Mexico to force repayment of debts. The 5th of May, 1862, commemorates the Mexican army’s unexpected victoryover French forces at the Battle of Puebla. However, even with the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla, the French were able to gain control of the country. French Emperor Napoleon III installed Maximilian I (an Austrian) as emperor of Mexico, which lasted until 1867 when the French Army was finally driven from the country.
See? We told you that Cinco de Mayo is something much different than what you probably assumed.
Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores”) on September 16 is recognized in Mexico as Independence Day — on that day in 1810 the war for independence from Spain began. The day is also known as El Grito de la Independencia (“Cry of Independence”) or El Dieciseis de septiembre.
Mexican-Americans and Cinco de Mayo
So, what do Mexican-Americans think of Cinco de Mayo? Is it as important as the U.S. festivities might lead one to believe?
Borderstan Food Editor Alejandra Owens grew up in Arizona and her mother is Mexican-American. “While I’m hesitant to speak for a whole culture, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any Mexican-Americans that take the holiday seriously,” said Owens.
When asked if Americans understood Cinco de Mayo, Owens replied: “I think Americans are clueless about the holiday. Most would probably say it’s ‘Mexican Independence Day,’ but it’s not. It’s like St. Patrick’s Day — people just view it as a fun excuse to party. And maybe don some racially insensitive hats.” She added, “In Arizona, we were more likely to celebrate Rodeo Week.”
Local real estate agent Fernando Garcia was born in Texas and lived for a few years in Mexico with his family before moving back to Texas. “In our family, The Day of The Dead [Día de los Muertos] was celebrated and recognized more than Cinco de Mayo. We did celebrate El Dieciseis de Septiembre every year with fireworks and parties — not Cinco de Mayo,” said Garcia.
So, has Cinco de Mayo become “gringoized,” so to speak? “Very. This is very ‘Corporate America.’ Anything to make a buck and commercialize a holiday for profits,” said Garcia.
Danny Hernandez lives grew up in Texas and now lives in D.C. “When talking to my grandmother about Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Mexico, she said entire towns have events similar to a county fair. There are games, food, carnival attractions, dancing, a rodeo, a parade, and they elect a queen. It’s an all day celebration, but not something she found when she moved to the states, hence I didn’t grow up celebrating it in Texas,” said Hernandez.
How does Hernandez view the American version of the 5th of May? “When I moved to D.C. two years ago I was surprised at how many bars and restaraunts had Cinco de Mayo specials and events, despite the very small Mexican population here. My first Cinco de Mayo in the city, I texted the few Mexicans I knew, to ask how they would be celebrating. None of them had plans, even though many of my non-Mexican friends were going out,” said Hernandez.
Whatever your views about Cinco de Mayo — and how well you understand it — it’s a great day to have fun and remember that it signifies something important in Mexican history.
- Crimes of Note: Cinco de Mayo Barroom Brawl Edition
- Cinco de Mayo: Dónde Comer y Beber (y ¿Por qué?)
From Matty Rhoades
Welcome to the Post Cinco de Mayo edition of our weekly Crimes of Note. Two crimes from the past week stand out, particularly given the dates.
Top honors go to three guys who got into a brawl that broke out in a 17th Street NW establishment on the 1600 block (which is somewhere between Q and R Streets NW) on Friday, May 6 at 1:15 am. We attempted to find out which establishment, but no luck so far. From the police report:
“The reporting person stated that a verbal altercation ensued between three patrons of their establishment. The altercation turned into an all-out brawl with fixtures being removed from the walls of the establishment and used as thrown weapons. All three suspects fled the scene before the arrival of the MPD [Metropolitan Police Department]. The suspects were described as: #1-Black/Male, 5’5″-5’7″, 150-160 lbs. with a medium complexion and a slender build. He was last seen wearing a black shirt and blue pants. #2-Unk./Race, 20-25 YOA, 5’7″-5’9″, 160-180 lbs. with a medium complexion and an average build. He was last seen wearing a black shirt, blue shirt and jacket. #3-Unk. Description.”
Second place in the post-Cinco de Mayo “I-drank-too-many-shots” crime competition goes to the person who thought that driving the cab home would be easier than reaching agreement on the fare. Time was 11:15 pm on the 5th of May near 15th and P Streets NW. The police report said:
“The victim reported that after transporting a fare, he and the customer became involved in a verbal altercation. During the exchange, the passenger jumped into the driver’s seat and stole the victim’s auto. A passing off-duty MPD officer was flagged down and soon after stopped the suspect and arrested him. This is a closed case.”
Here are the rest of the crimes of note from the past week. The following is a list of robberies, assaults, sex crimes, drug crimes, stolen autos and burglaries in the Dupont Circle, Logan Circle and U Street neighborhoods. Crimes are from police reports for Police Service Areas (PSAs) 208 (Dupont-Kalorama), 305 (includes U Street area) and 307 (Logan Circle).
Cinco de Mayo alert! If you’ve looked at a calendar recently, you are probably aware that May 5th is also known as Cinco de Mayo, day of magical tequila and tortilla chip glory. If not, now you know.
Before laying out some local establishments where you can celebrate, let’s take a moment to review why we’re celebrating tomorrow…
FYI, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. In 1861, the French invaded Mexico to force repayment of debts. The 5th of May, 1862, commemorates the Mexican army’s (unlikely) victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. However, even with the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla, the French were able to gain control of the country and install a Frenchman as emperor of Mexico, which lasted until 1867 when the French Army was finally driven from the country.
Now, to help plan your evening and marg-hopping and eating, here’s a roundup of local spots with special Cinco parties and deals: