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Arizona Biltmore Tequila Sunrise

The Original Tequila Sunrise as served in the Wright Bar at the Arizona Biltmore.

After my somewhat disappointing visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, I felt like I needed a drink, and what better place to get one than at the Arizona Biltmore’s Wright Bar, named after the famed architect. Their house cocktails seemed overly sweet and uninspired: something called a Wright Passion (pomegranate liqueur and Grand Marnier); Wright’s Root Beer Float (Appleton rum & root beer with whipped cream—yuck).

Then I came across a story in the cocktail menu on “The History of the Arizona Biltmore’s Original Tequila Sunrise.” According to the resort, the Tequila Sunrise was created in the “late 1930s or early 1940s when a gentleman by the name of Gene Sulit came to work for The Arizona Biltmore.”

As the legend goes, a loyal and longtime repeat guest had returned to the Arizona Biltmore and told Sulit that he loved tequila, “But was looking for a refreshing beverage to enjoy poolside, and asked Gene to surprise him.”

So right then and there Sulit created the “iconic cocktail made famous in songs, movies, and American pop culture.”

Great story. God only knows if it’s true. Everything I’ve ever read says the Tequila Sunrise was created by a San Francisco bartender named Bobby Lozoff at the Trident restaurant in Sausalito around 1970.

“The Tequila Sunrise was invented here,” Lozoff told a National Geographic writer last February. Lozoff says he and another bartender used to make traditional vodka or gin cocktails with tequila. Lozoff says that his drink was a tequila version of a Singapore Sling.

“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.”

Two things might suggest the veracity of Lozoff’s story: There are no mentions of a Tequila Sunrise in any major cocktail guides from the 40s or 50s or even 60s; the first “Sunrise” cocktail I’ve come across is in The Bartender’s Standard Manual, published in 1971.

However, there are a couple of other things to consider here. One is that nobody published tequila cocktail recipes prior to 1970 (in my copy of the classic Esquire cocktail book, The Art of Mixing Drinks, published in 1956, there are exactly three tequila cocktails: Margarita, Tequila Sour, and something called a Prado Cocktail , from the Hotel Del Prado in Mexico City, which is just a Gin Sour made with tequila).

Also, the Tequila Sunrise created by Gene Sulit at the Arizona Biltmore had little to do with the Sunrise the Eagles were singing about in the early 70s. It was made with tequila, fresh lime juice, crème de cassis, and club soda. No orange juice, no grenadine.

The 1971 version in the Bartender’s Standard Manual is sort of a compromise between Sulit’s Sunrise and the version we think of now; it calls for grenadine, but no orange juice.

In any case, I ordered the Arizona Biltmore’s “Original Tequila Sunrise” and it was light, refreshing, and much less cloying than that nasty drink from the 70s. I’d highly recommend you give this version a try.

The Biltmore Original Tequila Sunrise

1 1/2 oz. blue agave tequila

3/4 oz. crème de cassis

Fresh lime

Soda water

Fill chimney glass with cracked ice. Add tequila, crème de cassis, and a squeeze of lime. Fill with soda and garnish with a lime wedge.

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