Hussong's Cantina – Ensenada, Mexico - Gastro Obscura

Hussong's Cantina

A 19th-century Baja cantina that many say is the birthplace of the margarita. 


The curious history of Hussong’s proves that when opportunity knocks, you should answer — even if it comes in the form of a violent dirtbag you barely know asking you to do him a solid.

Johann Hussong immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1888, and moved to Ensenada in 1889 after the discovery of gold in the area prompted a short-lived and perhaps over-hasty gold rush. Hussong restyled himself as “John” and worked as a hunter and trader for a couple of years, until a series of difficult-to-parse events led to the establishment of his landmark Baja cantina.

John and his companion Newt went a-trading down the coast at El Arco, where Newt broke his leg in a carriage mishap. The two returned to Ensenada so that Newt could recuperate at Meiggs’ Bar, which at the time was the only bar in town. After being there only two days, the owner (Meiggs) attacked his wife with an axe, promptly went to jail, and Mrs. Meiggs took the opportunity to disappear to California. After Meiggs got out of jail, he went north to find his wife, asking John to look after the joint while he was gone. Neither Meiggs ever turned up again, thus Hussong found himself the premier publican in Ensenada.

After running Meiggs’ Bar for a year, in 1892 Hussong wisely decided to break new ground and purchased a stage coach station across the street (the southern terminal of an Ensenada-LA line) which he turned into Hussong’s Cantina. The establishment remains in the same place and largely unchanged to this day, including their continued possession of municipal liquor licence #002. Meiggs’ Bar has since gone out of business, making Hussong’s the oldest bar in Ensenada.

As remarkable as that history may be, Hussong’s primary claim to fame is as the birthplace of the margarita. The cocktail was purportedly invented in October 1941 by Hussong’s bartender Don Carlos Orozco, who had been experimenting with various concoctions and tested one out on a German ambassador’s daughter who visited the cantina, one Margarita Henkel. She (presumably) enjoyed the experimental libation, and it was thus named after her. While it is no doubt difficult to pinpoint with absolute certainty the first place where tequila, lime juice, and a fragrant liqueur were mixed together into a delicious good-time drink, Hussong’s remains the commonly accepted home of the margarita.

Hussong’s lives on to this day in the old stage coach station, its sawdust-covered floor and uncomplicated place-to-drink-booze atmosphere giving patrons a taste of Old Mexico. Famous visitors include James Garner and Ronald Reagan. Every Sunday, the cantina offers two-for-one deals on “prepared clamatos.”

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