Sure, it’s easy to say yes to that classic margarita with the salted rim, and the frozen variety is often a refreshing finish to a long day. But there’s a small thrill to be had when testing a riff on the original, and trying new cocktails is on our minds with the fourth annual Charleston Margarita Festival coming up this Friday.

[content-1] Four area restaurants use nitrogen, rosé, and even smoke to add a ‘wow’ element to this already beloved libation. These four spots will join the list of over 20 Charleston area restaurants and bars set to hit Brittlebank Park Friday. But what do these added touches change about the actual margarita itself? We talked to the cocktail maestros behind these off-the-wall margs to get the full scoop.


Lewis Kesaris from Rebel Taqueria, a taco truck that has occupied one of the stalls at Workshop since September 2018, is keen to the fact that the margarita is one of America’s favorite cocktails. Always looking for exciting variations, the chef and owner was inspired after a trip to Low Tide Brewing when he tested out one of their nitrogen-infused beers. A week later, the Rebel Taqueria Nitro Margarita was born, and Kesaris feels that the chilly liquid infusion gives the drink a smooth, velvety texture.

El Jefe restaurateur Jay Witkowski says he “ate and drank his way around the country” prior to opening the Texas-inspired King Street eatery that’s also adding liquid nitrogen to their margarita. Witkowski explains that the nitrogen adds texture and keeps the margarita from getting watered down as you drink it. Each cocktail is made to order and features Lunazul Reposado Tequila, triple sec, and a fresh sweet and sour mix made daily from lemon, lime, and orange juice. And if that wasn’t enough, Witkowski finishes the drink with a Grand Marnier floater on top. There’s even something for the kids at El Jefe, as the eatery just started a tableside ice cream service utilizing that same liquid nitrogen, providing a little show to go with dessert.

Instead of nitrogen, Brooke Warden from Oaxacan eatery Pink Cactus utilizes smoke in one of her cocktails which is fittingly called “Smoke on Water.” Although the mezcal-based beverage isn’t technically a margarita, it packs just as much of a punch thanks to the use of a smoking gun, providing an interactive component to the offering. The drink’s title is a play on words — “smoke” refers to the use of the mezcal, while “water” is a nod to the secondary component of the beverage known as Agua Fresca, which is Mexican for “fresh waters” and is the name given to a common non-alcoholic beverage in Mexico. There are myriad Aguas but the Flor de Jamaica (hibiscus) is featured in this cocktail, giving it a slightly tart finish.


Sometimes the key to a next-level summer margarita is that one extra ingredient, and Morgan Hurley from Mex 1 Coastal Cantina found his at about 1 a.m. while lying in bed one night. The magic mixer? Rosé. Hurley combines it with Lunazul Reposado, fresh watermelon puree, lime juice, and agave nectar to form the refreshing seasonal margarita known as the Baja Tanga. The wine adds depth to the drink, resulting in a crisp, slightly dry finish that isn’t overly sweet.

There you have it, the Charleston establishments pushing the boundaries on what a margarita can be, one well-thought addition at a time. With concoctions like these going around the Lowcountry, who knows what you’ll find at this year’s festival.

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