The Yaqui Indians and Spanish Conquistadores considered it sacred ground because of its seemingly endless supply of steamy, bubbling hot mineral water and rich soothing mud, both of which were believed to contain medicinal properties. Agua Caliente (hot water), as the area was known, was thought to be the source of the elusive 'Fountain of Youth', and the inhabitants who settled this site near modern-day Tijuana, wee convinced that their land had been blessed by the gods. By 1589, some 70 years after Spain's conquest of Mexico, Agua Caliente had become a strategic link along the legendary 'El Camino Real', the trade route that ran from Mexico City to Sante Fe and Taos in a territory then known as "Nuevo Mexico." Since the desire to bring Christianity to the "heathens" served as a reason for Cortes' invasion of Mexico, it did not take long for Dominican Padres to establish missions in and around Agua Caliente, making it one of the more important Roman Catholic strongholds in Mexico.
Centuries later, the hallowed land surrounding Agua Caliente, gave way to a rather intrusive and raucous neighbor, the bawdy, honky-tonk border town of Tia Juana (Aunt Jane), where shooting tequila with licks of lime and salt along side women of questionable morals, established it as the place for Americans who wanted to lose their inhibitions (among other things) and experience a more relaxed lifestyle. Fortunately Agua Caliente was located four miles south of Tia Juana and could remain immune to the wide west atmosphere up the road … for a short time anyway. The tranquil meditative life of the villages of Agua Caliente came to an abrupt end in 1927, when a hot-shot San Diego businessman and real estate developer by the name of Baron Long, decide to turn the ancient mineral springs into a bustling resort, encompassing a hotel with adjoining bungalows, restaurants, bars, casino, a nightclub, swimming pool, a luxurious racetrack a la Santa Anita, and the only duty-free shop in North America. From a quasi-religious site, Agua Caliente became an uninhibited playground for the rich and famous designed to attract the in-crowd of Hollywood's motion picture industry. Part Disneyland, part Las Vegas, Baron Long's complex fulfilled the need of a certain segment of American society for sophisticated distractions during a time of economic and social depression in the United States. Prohibition, introduced in 1921, was sin full-force in the U.S. by the time this fairytale land was operational in 1927, but since the resort's motto was "Where Drinking Never Ceased," wine and spirits had been flowing in torrents from the moment Agua Caliente opened its doors. Drinking was such an important activity here that a guide book called Bottoms Up! Subtitled El Catecismo del la Libacion was published and distributed throughout the property's bars and restaurants. Chapters with titles like "Drinkology," "Famous Drinkers of History," "Bravo Tequila," and remedies for "The Morning After" sow a rather cavalier attitude toward drinking, designed to encourage alcohol-deprived Americans to let loose and imbibe until they dropped. Enter the "Tequila Sunrise," a cocktail used routinely at Agua Caliente as a hangover remedy, a sort of "eye-opener" for those guests who had over indulged. The drink didn't really take hold in the U.S until its revival in the 1960s. The recipe that we are used to seeing today, calling for large amounts of orange juice, is not the original. The true "Tequila Sunrise," the drink meant to relieve the misery of a hangover, was much simpler and far more flavorful. The original Agua Caliente recipe is below. The admonition as printed in the Agua Caliente brochure is to be taken seriously - "Under no circumstances alter this order."
THE TEQUILA SUNRISE
(recipe for 1 drink)
1. One jigger Tequila.
2. One half lime, squeezed. Insert peel.
3. EXACTLY six dashes grenadine.
4. EXACTLY two dashes Crème de Cassis.
5. Two lumps ice.
6. Serve in highball glass, filled to brim with healthful Agua Caliente "Roca Blanca" water. If not available, fizz with seltzer.
7. Stir slightly.
Notice the absence of orange juice, an ingredient that I believe mucks up this and many other drink recipes. Even the color looks more like a true sunrise than contemporary versions - a fiery copper red thanks to the combination of grenadine and cassis. More importantly, that piercingly refreshing and delicious taste of a silver tequila comes through beautifully using this recipe. The addition of orange juice in subsequent recipes may be due to the fact that some people downed a Tequila Sunrise as a chaser after their morning glass of orange juice, or perhaps the glass of orange juice came first, followed by the cocktail.
Recently, I made a pilgrimage to Agua Caliente, knowing that most of the original complex is gone. Arriving at night, harsh lights blazing a path to the casino parking lot, I was awed by the size of the complex and could only imagine what it was like in the care-free days of the 1930s when the Sunrise was sold for a whopping 25 cents a drink. In those days it was billed as the "Drink of Gods," "A Fascinating Tequila Fantasy - The Drink You Can Never Forget - A Man's Drink - A Woman's Drink." Rita Haworth and other beautiful Hollywood hopefuls got their start as show girls at the resort, while Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were frequent guests and developed their taste for tequila there. Fortunately, these and other celebrity guests brought the drink north of the border for our drinking pleasure. Viva The Sunrise!!