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Viva tequila: Denton speakeasies talk on beloved spirit

One dollar can buy a scratch-off lottery ticket, nearly half a gallon of gas or a margarita at Applebee’s through the end of July.

Kris Knox lives in Denton and has worked as a bartender at the Applebee’s restaurant off South Interstate 35E for just over a year. Having worked at a handful of restaurants throughout his food-service career, the bar and grill touts an array of “top shelf” liquors he claims are unmatched. 

Guests who make their way through the double doors  may indulge in select half-price appetizers every day between 11 p.m. to 2 a relatively coy atmosphere where they can mingle, make a jukebox sing and indulge in a number of alcoholic beverages.

That includes the Dollarita, one of the many options Denton residents had to celebrate National Tequila Day on Monday, when pubs around the globe further encourage guests to guzzle down the agave plant’s nectar.

Knox answered with unshakeable resolve when asked how many Dollaritas are dished out to customers on a daily basis.

“Hundreds,” he said.

Applebee’s only seated a dozen tables before noon Monday, yet already sold eight Dollaritas to those morning patrons. But it’s not only the attractive price that persuades customers to down a Dollarita, Knox said. Swirling the house’s gold tequila into Applebee’s seasonal drink makes for a refreshing treat for most people.

“It’s a very appealing part of our everyday business. For the price, you’re getting a balanced drink that really pulls people in,” Knox said. “We’ve done this special before in the past. It’s always a wonderful draw and is absolutely unbeatable.”

Tequila is named for its city of origin, which sits in central Mexico. The distilled spirit is produced by a fermentation technique that originated in Europe, according to a history by Consejo Regulador del Tequila, an organization comprised of worldwide tequila producers. By distilling the heart of a blue agave, which may take 10 years to reach peak ripeness, the concoction is then “baked” for more than a year.

Tequila began trickling into the U.S. during World War II. The Mexican liquor supplanted whiskey since it ceased to be imported during the war, the CRT says. Exports reached unprecedented heights during this time, and that figure continues to climb.

Today, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau says the U.S., with more than $400 million spent annually, accounts for 50 percent of Mexico’s tequila exports.

More than 200 types of agaves can be found in Mexico, yielding myriad of different alcoholic beverages. Nevertheless, with more than 89 million liters of tequila from 100 percent agave exported from Mexico in 2016, tequila has become a staple export that consumers indulge in worldwide.

And contrary to popular belief, tequila does not act as an antidepressant to the brain — though some would swear by tequila’s miraculous capabilities. Containing ethanol, the same central nervous system depressant found in all alcoholic drinks, the alcohol is identical and affects the brain in the same way, according to an article published in The Atlantic.

Even so, it’s the key ingredient in the cheap margaritas found in bars along the Fry Street area near the University of North Texas, a drink many consider a safe bet when faced with a slew of combinations of liquors.

“A lot of people drink it because they don’t like the taste of the actual alcohol,” said Kelley Brackney, who has worked as a bartender for the past year at Lucky Lou’s near the UNT campus.

While Brackney acknowledged how pervasive margaritas are, higher-end tequilas are typically consumed with a simple mixer to truly enjoy them.

“Most people just get margaritas because they’re cheap,” she said.

The folks at Milpa Kitchen & Cantina have noticed that trend in the nine years the authentic Mexican cuisine restaurant has been in business on South Interstate 35E. Several area businesses have become increasingly competitive with their margarita offerings at low prices.

Jorge Landeros, manager at Milpa, said his restaurant’s original goal was to feature a bar lined with dozens of kinds of tequilas. As time went on and customers gave feedback, he and his staff adjusted their focus to making more varieties of margaritas rather than endless tequila options.

Thus, the 100-margarita menu was born.

“As far as the quality, I think more and more businesses in town are upping their quality. We feel like a lot more people are making margaritas from scratch,” Landeros said.

Most drinkers in Denton actually prefer whiskey over tequila from what he has noticed.

Milpa has about 25 tequilas infused with various flavors, like jalapeno and strawberry, to appeal to taste buds.

While the 100-margarita menu shines during the sweltering summers, Landeros said he believes a well-balanced combination of authentic Mexican food paired with a perfected margarita is truly what patrons desire.

“Not a lot of people are fond of tequila by itself,” he said. “If a margarita is well-balanced, we think that’s a lot more important than having high-quality tequila.”

MATT PAYNE can be reached at 940-566-6845.