This article originally appeared in National Geographic Assignment.
French philosopher Rene Descartes once said, “When it is not in our power to follow what is true, we ought to follow what is most probable.” It was this sentiment that occurred to me as I sat amidst the dark burled wood of the main dining room of Horizons restaurant staring out at the same Sausalito California view that inspired Otis Redding to write his posthumous 1968 #1 hit “(Sittin on) The Dock of the Bay.” As I watched the tide roll away, I wasn’t wasting time; I was there to investigate claims that the famous Tequila Sunrise cocktail was invented in that very room just a few years after that song was written.
Mark Lomas is tall, taller than most, and coupled with his salt and pepper hair he makes for a commanding presence. Lomas works as a real estate agent in affluent Marin County-which includes Sausalito-and it is that commanding presence that helps keeps him employed in a widely fluctuating housing market involving properties worth millions of dollars. 40 years ago however, Lomas was a young man and one of his first jobs was a restaurant job in the very room that I was now sitting. The restaurant was then called the Trident and was owned by members of the Kingston Trio (Trident was also the name of their record company). As such it was rock and roll ground zero.
The Trident was way ahead of it’s time. From 1966 to the mid 1970’s it was the place to be in the Bay Area. Famed for its beautiful waitresses and musical pedigree it also featured such innovations as sashimi, a fresh juice bar and an espresso bar. These days, in addition to selling properties, Lomas also runs the Trident tribute website, TridentRestaraunt.com which helps preserve the heritage and history of the original Trident restaurant. Lomas has many colorful stories; stories about Janis Joplin (a regular), Robin Williams (a busboy there), Carlos Santana, Bill Graham and hosts of others. But it is one story that intrigues me the most.
“The Tequila Sunrise was invented here,” he says authoritatively.
Now being a cocktail historian of sorts, I was reasonably sure that the Tequila Sunrise had been invented long before the Trident existed, but I tucked away that information – along with the phone number of the bartender that supposedly did that inventing. Over the next few months I did some research and came up with two things:
- The Arizona Biltmore hotel claims that bartender Gene Sulit invented the Tequila Sunrise there in the late 1930s; which consisting of tequila, lime juice, soda and crème de cassis. Very little evidence exists for Sulit’s Sunrise recipe outside of the Biltmore’s own literature. Indeed I could not find it any of the major cocktail guides of the era.
- The recipe most people are familiar with; tequila, orange juice and grenadine appeared in the 1974 version of Mr. Boston’s Bartender’s Guide for the very first time ever. A guide that has been in print since 1935 and is updated every couple of years.
The Arizona Biltmore hotel, the so-called “Jewel of the Desert,” was designed by Albert Chase McArthur, a student of well known architect Frank Lloyd Wright and it opened for business in 1929. Legend has it that Frank Lloyd Wright consulted on the design. In the 1990’s the hotel restaurant was renamed “Wright’s” as a direct result of this legend and still later the hotel bar became the “Wright Bar” in 2007. Odd considering that Mr. Wright himself wrote in 1930 that “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.”
Today the Arizona Biltmore features two Tequila Sunrises on it’s cocktail menu, Gene Sulit’s version and the much more familiar orange juice version.
Sulit’s Sunrise is reminiscent of the Singapore Sling, invented in 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boom, a bartender at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Slings were a whole category of drinks made with an alcohol, some fruit flavorings (usually citrus), sugar, and either sparkling or still water. Boom’s Sling was essentially a gin sling with Cherry Heering added, much like Sulit’s drink is a tequila sling with cassis added.
Eventually I contacted Bobby Lozoff the so-called “inventor” of the Trident’s Tequila Sunrise.
Lozoff, 65, now splits his time between computer IT work and teaching tutorials while living in Hawaii. But back in 1969 he was a fresh faced 20-something looking for work in Sausalito.
“I did about two or three days as a dishwasher,” he said. “Then I was a busboy and when I got old enough I became a bartender”
He claims to have taken the bartending very seriously.
“Myself and a bartender called Billy Rice started experimenting. Anything made with gin or vodka we started making with tequila,” he said. “A couple of them didn’t turn out too well.”
One drink that did turn out well was a resurrected Tequila Sunrise.
“We built it in a chimney glass; a shot of tequila with one hand, a shot of sweet and sour with the other hand, the soda gun, then orange juice, float crème de cassis on top, grenadine if you wanted, and that was it, the Tequila Sunrise.”
Lozoff acknowledges that his drink was a version of the Singapore Sling, just with tequila.
“I was the fastest bartender in the Bay Area,” said Lozoff. “[The local press] always phoned me for drink recipes, and I was young and into all that.”
￼”My thing back then,” he says. “Was serving hundreds of drinks, dozens per minute, using both hands. It was volume, volume, volume. As fast as you can, big tips and cash money. We had four or five registers and two bars going. We didn’t run a tab, it was cash money only.”
Eventually, as things in busy bars must, the bartenders simplified the recipe to just tequila, orange juice and grenadine. Nice and easy ruled the day.
“In 1969 the Trident was the center of marijuana and all that other stuff,” said Lozoff. “We had pictures of the fields in Mexico, and at that point we sold more tequila than all the other places in the United States combined.”
Margaritas and shots of tequila were a way of life.
“The Trident was frontrunner, avant garde, dope runners, the guys who lived in Mexico and brought back the pot. There was always that market in Marin County,” said Lozoff. “David Crosby had the boat down the street and all that kind of stuff, [the Trident] was a rock and roll haven and tequila was the ‘in’ drink.”
In early 1972 another young man would sit in the main dining room of the Trident restaurant looking at the very same view. The young Mick Jagger’s band, the Rolling Stones, had just returned to the United States for their first tour since the disastrous debacle at Altamont in 1969. Their two month tour of North America in support of their album “Exile on Main Street” was the subject of a media frenzy rarely seen before. In many ways it set the tone for all future bad boy rock tours. There were TV’s thrown out of hotel windows, drug use on national television, arrests, riots, a four day stay at the Playboy mansion, and an entourage featuring at times Bob Dylan, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Andy Warhol, supermodel Bianca Jagger and any number of the rich and beautiful. It is no wonder that Rolling Stone writer Dave Marsh called the tour the “benchmark of an era.” That tour had a lasting legacy, and not just musically.
Truman Capote was also part of the traveling entourage and covered the tour ostensibly for Rolling Stone magazine and although he never actually wrote the article for which he was assigned he did appear many times on The Tonight Show to regale mainstream America with the Rolling Stones’ exploits. Terry Southern also covered the tour for the Saturday Review and as a result the Rolling Stones behavior became the stuff of legend. Part of that legend included the Tequila Sunrise.
The tour began with a show in Vancouver, Canada, a two show stop in Seattle and then an eight show eight day extravaganza spanning the length of California. It was during this marathon that the Stones attended a party hosted by Bill Graham at the Trident.
“We had a Rolling Stones party one Monday night when we were usually closed,” said Lozoff. “The owner called me in and put me behind the bar. We had a select menu, a couple of the prettier waitresses and that was the party. Bill Graham brought in about 35 people, and you know the place holds several hundred. Mick came up to the bar and asked for a margarita, I asked him if he had ever tried a Tequila Sunrise, he said no, I built him one and they started sucking them up. After that they took them all across the country.”
For those who doubt the veracity of this account I suggest they pick up Keith Richards’ book Life, published in October of 2010. Chapter Nine, sentence number one: “The ’72 tour was known by other names-the Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise tour…”
The following Tuesday, Bill Graham gave the Trident employees a block of tickets. “So, we all were at the Tuesday night program,” said Lozoff. Thursday night Lozoff was managing another bar, the Orphanage in San Francisco. Toots and the Maytalls were the headliners:
“The Stones came in after them for another party. We stayed open til six in the morning, even though we were supposed to close at 2. No one busted us. It was a nice party, kind of wild,” said Lozoff. “I know who had the keys to my office and who was partying,” he said. “The Stones were real discreet, they had their own set-up. They partied a little bit and they jammed a little bit. It was real nice.”
In 1973, Jose Cuervo seized on this new cocktail sensation and began marketing it in various print advertisements, eventually releasing it as one of their canned “club cocktails.”
“Lou, (the manager of the Trident) talked to the Cuervo people,” said Lozoff. “We were the biggest outlet in the United States, and they were talking to us – that recipe, with crème de cassis went on the back of bottles, and at one point our recipe made it on the back of the gold bottle.”
History would be kinder to this newer version of the Tequila Sunrise. In 1973 the Eagles released the song, “Tequila Sunrise” which cracked the Billboard top 100. In the liner notes of 2003’s The Very Best of the Eagles, Don Henley says, “I believe that was a Glenn title. I think he was ambivalent about it because he thought that it was a bit too obvious or too much of a cliché because of the drink that was so popular then.”
The album Desperado and the single were both released on April 17, 1973 after being recorded earlier that year at Island Studios in London. Although the song is not about the drink itself (it’s about drinking tequila until the sun comes up) Henley’s words gives us a great view into the drinks popularity at the time, less than nine months after the Stones’ tour.
Eventually the Trident closed and Lozoff moved to Hawaii where he opened the Blue Max nightclub (patterned on the Trident). After which he turned to computers and technology
“The new drinks I see these days I can’t relate to,” he says wistfully.
“But I have a million stories about the Trident, it was a fun time and I have no regrets.”
No regrets and one lasting legacy; the Tequila Sunrise. Three things have since occurred to me:
- Being first doesn’t always mean “most important.”
- Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico wrote, “The criterion and rule of the true is to have made it.” A direct departure from Descartes belief that truth is verified through observation.
- Horizon’s restaurant will be changing its name back to the Trident later this year, almost 40 years to the day of that 1972 Rolling Stones party.