June 21 is National Tequila Sunrise Day. Who knew? Certainly not me, at least not until recently, and I am the one who wrote the original comprehensive history of that drink when I blogged for National Geographic Assignment (also here: Jeff Burkhart’s Barfly: Tequila sunrise legend finally gets his due) way back in 2012.
The history of that drink is now pretty well documented, the name was invented at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel by Gene Sulit, but it was Billy Rice and Bobby Lozoff, two bartenders at the Trident Restaurant in Sausalito, that reinterpreted that name into the drink that we now know today.
Premiered this year by Santo Spirits – Red Rocker Sammy Hagar’s tequila/mezquila company – the Sunrise and a rock and roll connection comes almost like an awareness slap to the head. But of course! Because it was the Rolling Stones who originally brought the drink to national attention
“We trademarked ‘National Tequila Sunrise Day’ but are also having a love affair with the cocktail’s versatility and multigenerational appeal,” says Kate Palmer, Regional Sales Manager for Santo Spirits (and Sausalito resident). “It is a drinks holiday opportunity created by our Vice President of Marketing. She wanted something to look forward to, after Cinco de Mayo, that Santo Spirits could really lean into and celebrate all summer long.”
The kickoff for National Tequila Sunrise Day just happened to fall in the same week that the Trident Restaurant in Sausalito, in conjunction with the Marin History Museum, is unveiling a historical marker commemorating the 50ish anniversary of the Stones adoption of that drink back on June 7, 1972 (the marker will be unveiled on June 25). Keith Richards himself, later dubbed the 1972 tour “the cocaine and Tequila Sunrise Tour,” in his 2011 book, “Life.”
“I had gone to the show at Winterland, and hung out backstage,” says Pattie Spaziani, former Trident waitress. “They were talking about going to the party. On the night of, I actually wanted to go home first and freshen up, because I had been out dancing and was wearing uncomfortable shoes. There was a password, but by the time I got there they had changed it. Luckily, I knew everyone at the Trident, so I got in. It wasn’t that crowded.”
Spaziani remembers having a Tequila Sunrise that night. “I wasn’t a real drinker, maybe a glass of wine or a hit from Janis Joplin’s Southern Comfort bottle as it was passed [Joplin had been a regular at the Trident before her untimely death in 1970], but I remember thinking, I like this.”
She also, appropriately, remembers the party ending with the sun coming up. “It was dawn, I think. Back in those days, shows were over early, so even when I got there late, people were still just arriving. It was a nice party, not too crazy.”
Later working as a caterer for the Stones on their 1974 tour, Spaziani reconnected with Jerry Pompili, the manager of Winterland who was also at the party and whose own experience at that party is documented here: Barfly Podcast Season Five: Episode One: Jerry Pompili.
As a result of that party and the Stones, the Sunrise became a national phenomenon. A popular song and a popular movie were named after it, Harley Davidson motorcycles has a Tequila Sunrise color, and even the cocktail emoji on most smartphones, appears as a Tequila Sunrise. And now adding to that substantial legacy, there is also a National Tequila Sunrise Day and a historical marker at the Trident.
“Although we are not directly connected to the original Trident, we consider it a great honor and responsibility to be the custodian of the history and legacy of this iconic operation,” says Rick Enos, current General Manager of the Trident.
With all that in mind I have taken the liberty of assembling a few tequila sunrise recipes here, all localized, of course, for your consumption.
Gene Sulit’s Tequila Sunrise (Arizona Biltmore Hotel)
1 ½ ounces Santo Spirits Blanco tequila
¾ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1 ounce sparkling water
½ ounce Mathilde crème de cassis (not local but really delicious)
1 lime wheel
In a tall glass filled with ice, combine the first three ingredients, and stir gently. Add the crème de cassis, making sure it sinks to the bottom. Garnish with lime wheel.
Note: Oddly the Biltmore also claims to have a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural connection: “designed by FLW”, “Wright’s Bar,” etc., even though Wright himself once wrote: “Albert McArthur is the architect of that building, all attempts to take the credit for that performance from him are gratuitous and beside the mark.”
Billy Rice and Bobby Lozoff ‘s Tequila Sunrise (Sausalito’s Trident Restaurant)
1 ½ ounces Santo Spirits Blanco tequila
2 ounces fresh squeezed orange juice
¾ ounce Sonoma Syrup Co. Pomegranate “grenadine” syrup*
1 Tillen Farms “Merry Maraschino” all natural stemmed cherry
1 small orange wheel
In a stemmed “hurricane’ style glass filled with ice, combine tequila and orange juice and stir. Sink grenadine to bottom and garnish with orange wheel.
Note: the modern Trident Sunrise recipe adds crème de cassis as well, proving that nothing is static in the world of cocktails.