Most Baja Aficionados have been to Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada − at least once in their lives. It’s a landmark … a legend … a one-of-a-kind, a not-to-be-missed experience. It has this certain mystique. It’s famous. People all over the world know about it. During the 1950s and 1960s, it was not unusual to see the likes of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne sitting at the bar. It’s popularity has never waned in all these years. It’s also the place where the Margarita was invented-back in October, 1941, by bartender Don Carlos Orozco. He concocted the perfect mixture of equal parts tequila, Damiana and lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass, for a beautiful woman named Margarita Henkel who frequented the bar, and who was the daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico.
Established in 1892, Hussong’s Cantina has a rich history and has played a significant role in growing the remote little frontier settlement of Ensenada into a hot spot of Baja California. It is often referred to as the “The Bar That Built A Town”.
Hussong’s founder, John Hussong, was born as “Johann” in Forhsam, Germany in 1863. Johann immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1888, and changed his name to John. In 1889, the discovery of gold south of the border lured John to Ensenada. In those days, Ensenada was barely a blip on the radar screen. It had just 1,337 residents, 3 hotels, a bar, a stage coach stop, a pier, a few shops, a flour mill, a school, a stable, and a wine cellar.
John made a living hunting and trading supplies up and down the Baja coast. In June of 1891, while on a trading expedition, John’s carriage flipped over, and his companion, Newt House, fractured his leg. John brought Newt to recuperate at Meiggs’ Bar, which back then, was Ensenada’s only watering hole. Two days after John and Newt arrived at the bar, Meiggs attacked his wife with an axe. When Meiggs was sent to jail, his wife fled to California. When he got out of jail, Meiggs went in search of his wife, and asked John to mind the bar until he returned. Neither Meiggs nor his wife ever returned.
After operating the bar for nearly a year, John purchased and remodeled the building across the street, which was a Southern Lane stage coach stop that bookended the route between Los Angeles and Ensenada. John opened his new cantina in May 1892 as “Hussong’s Bar.” Today, Hussong’s Cantina is in the very same building in which it was founded. Little has changed since it opened. The Hussong family still owns and operates the cantina, and has created a tradition of maintaining a friendly atmosphere, serving great drinks and charging reasonable prices. It’s laid back, friendly, casual and always tons of fun. It is a little bit rowdy, but in a comfortable, easy-going way that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The locals are always happy to share their tables with visiting Americans.
Our goal is to proliferate the Hussong family’s tradition by creating a friendly, laid back, fun and entertaining experience that never takes itself too seriously, and where our patrons always feel welcome, no matter who they are, what they’re wearing, where they’re from, or where they’ve been.*
*Portions of this story are taken from an excerpt from Ann Hazard’s book, “Cooking With Baja Magic Dos”.