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Houston has seen its fair share of beer, wine, and spirits festivals pop up during the last couple of years. Lucky for festival organizers, Houstonians are quite enthusiastic about attending said festivals, and usually purchase so many entry tickets that festivals, even those in their first year, sell out. Awesome, right? In concept, yes. But, for festival organizers, it has many times created some unforeseen challenges, such as being prepared for large crowds with enough drinks, proper signage, and plenty of trained event staff – among many other things.

The first-ever Houston Margarita Festival, which took place this past Saturday, October 13 at the beautiful Discovery Green Park is a great example of all of the above.  Even though it was in its first year, the margarita festival sold out one day before the event (as I would have expected it to — this is Houston, people — where margarita lovers abound)! Come event day, big crowds turned up in big waves to sip on the lime green tequila drinks under a warm Texas sun.  Given my introduction, you can gather for yourself how the festival ended up turning out. It suffices to say that many people did not have the best time.

Me? I wasn’t one of those people. I had a great experience –- a really great, all around fun time — at the Houston Margarita Festival (many other people had fun, too)! Let me tell you a little about my day.

For starters, my partner-in-crime, Jessica, and I arrived early.  Navigating the festival grounds was quite easy. After only a couple of minutes of walking around and scoping the festival out, we figured out that we needed drink tickets to get sample or full-sized margaritas. So, we saw where we were to get them, and made our way over to the line. Well, the line was a little bit long.

The Bartering System

At the risk of being completely and utterly thrashed for revealing this, I share with you that Jessica and I decided to resort to the true and tried bartering tactic. It was simple.

  1. We made some friends that were at the front part of the line.
  2. We offered to give them some of our drink tickets if they would be so kind as to purchase some drink tickets for us.
  3. Our new friends happily accepted.
  4. We had drink tickets in our hands within a few short minutes.
  5. Our new buddies had extra drink tickets to spend, which required no money on their part.

Clearly, this was a win-win situation.  

The Margaritas

Next up, Jessica and I were off to acquire margarita samples, of which we found three varieties: the ubiquitous “house” variety (frozen, made with El Jimador tequila), a version made with 1800 Coconut Tequila, and SlimRitas. Worry not, we acquired these and all of our other margaritas by standing in line, like proper human beings.

We started with the SlimRita, a very limey ‘rita that was refreshing and not overly sweet. It turns out that this margarita, which has only 5 calories per serving, was made here in Houston by a local mom. According to their website, SlimRita is “a fresh juice margarita mix that uses zero calorie natural sweeteners and has no diet after taste”.  The description sounds accurate, and there sure as heck was no weird after-taste to it! It was definitely delicious and didn’t seem diet-like in any way.

We then moved on to sample the 1800 Coconut Tequila margarita, which had a very subtle, unique coconut taste to it. This coconut element made it different to the usual ‘ritas you can get around town.

It was after tasting both of these margaritas that we realized that we were going to need to get more tickets to have a full-sized house margarita. We had not made a smart move by buying only a few tickets the first time. So, it was back to the bartering system.

The Food

We got our tickets and made our way over to the “Romero’s Olives” booth – a food booth where everything was olive-based – olive salad, olive bread, fried olives, marinated olives were just some of the options. The friendly lady taking orders told us that it was her business, and that she travelled around from festival to festival selling her food. We opted for sharing the fried olives, which were perfectly fried and topped with a chipotle-honey dressing. They were fantastic! Kebabs, ice slushies, and Tex-Mex fare from the guys at Hornito’s Tequila were also available, although we never did go back to try these other spots.

The Strategy

By now, we had developed an additional drink strategy so as to ensure the success of the remainder of the day. I want to preface this by saying that neither of us were getting behind the wheel for any reason that day – the sole reason why this strategy was not a horribly dangerous one! The strategy? Order two drinks each, each time we went to the margarita booths. The two drinks were either a margarita and a beer or a margarita and a shot of tequila.

So we got the first round of double drinks, then walked around on the Discovery Green lawn, having a great time people watching. Then we did it all over a second time, the double drink strategy + the walking around. Let’s just say we did this a couple more times, and in no time were feeling very, very happy! Ha!

The Salsa Competition

Soon, we were ready to sit down and just chill out for a while – we were kind of tired from all of that walking around. So, we picked a nice little patch of grass on the hill in front of the Discovery Green stage and plopped ourselves down.

We were just in time, as the salsa competition was just minutes away. The live band got people riled up and excited about the competition, so much so that half the hill and the area in front of the stage was filled with people of all nationalities dancing salsa. Some were better dancers than others. Jessica and I had a ball watching them.

Before we knew it, Crissy Poole, Salsa Competition Coordinator, was up on the stage, presenting the 14 couples that would be participating in the salsa contest. The couples all got on the stage and showed everyone in attendance their special moves, after which Salsa Eddy and Crissy Poole eliminated 6 couples from the competition.

After a short intermission, the 8 remaining couples once again showed off their moves. This time, the crowd eliminated five couples, leaving three couples standing. Everyone gave it their best, but the audience had the difficult task of choosing a winner. The winning couple walked away from $500! Not bad, right? I thought they were all winners, for having the courage to dance on stage in front of so many people!

Not only was the salsa competition fun and engaging, it was the best part of the Houston Margarita Festival, and the best way to end the day.

We’re looking forward to next year’s festival, as it promises to be bigger and better. Here’s the message that the Houston Margarita Festival put up on their Facebook wall:

We understand your frustrations and disappointment with Saturday’s festival and regret that our first Margarita Festival was not the event day we had planned. We have heard and noted all of your suggestions and appreciate your feedback! It was not our intent to remove any feedback on Facebook and apologize for doing so; we assure you we have your suggestions and would love to hear more about what we can do to make next year better! Thank you again for your support and patience with us as we continue to grow this festival.

We do not want to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, so we invite you to join us this Wednesday, 10/17 or Thursday, 10/18 from 5-7 p.m to have your first drink on us at Double Cross Lounge (114 Gray St), Hearsay Houston (218 Travis St) or Distillery (2520 Houston Ave)! We look forward to seeing you margarita lovers again SOON! 

That was pretty good of them. But need I reiterate the excellent experience that we had?! Cheers!

Carla Gomez

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