Along with the mimosa, the Bloody Mary is an iconic brunch time staple. The savory diurnal sipper is a popular hair of the dog hangover cure that’s made many a Sunday bearable since its inception.
The history of the Bloody Mary starts in 1921 Fernand Petiot, who claimed he invented the cocktail at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Owned by legendary barman Harry MacElhone, the popular ex-pat bar is also purported to have been the birthplace of the Monkey Gland, the Sidecar, White Lady, and the French 75.
As Russians began arriving in Paris following the Revolution, they brought their vodka with them. Finding the spirit to be flavorless, Petiot began tinkering, adding tomato juice and, eventually, spices.
The Bloody Mary arrived in the United States around 1933-34 when Vincent Astor recruited Petiot for his King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. According to the official St. Regis story, “man about town” Serge Obolensky asked Petiot to recreate the vodka cocktail Petiot had been making in Paris.
As for its name, some say it was named after Queen Mary I of England (1553-58), who earned the loving nickname Bloody Mary for her vicious treatment of Protestants under her reign. Another suggests it was a couple of Chicago ex-pats who named it after Mary, a server at the Bucket of Blood bar back in their hometown. Another alleges it was a mispronunciation of an existing cocktail called the Vladimir. And yet another theory posits it was named in honor of actress Mary Pickford, which is kind of unfair since she already has her own drink.
Regardless, the name Bloody Mary was considered “too vulgar” for the King Cole patron’s delicate sensibilities, so Petiot attempted to rechristen it the Red Snapper. The name never really stuck; although the King Cole still refers to it is as such to this day.
While Petiot’s story has endured, there are other versions. One telling moves the Bloody’s birthplace around the corner form Harry’s to the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Paris. Incidentally, Ernest Hemingway the writer was said to be a fan of the cocktail. And while that can be said for just about every damn cocktail under the damn sun, Papa did like it enough to issue his own Bloody Mary recipe.
Back in New York, the 21 Club would like you to believe the Bloody originated there as a possible collaboration between bartender Henry Zbikiewicz and comedian George Jessel. In fact, a 1939 New York gossip column notes the cocktail’s connection to the bar and provides a recipe — albeit a very plain one, consisting of equal parts vodka and tomato juice. Petiot even acknowledges this version of the cocktail, but asserts he was the one who perfected it by adding spices, lemon and Worcestershire sauce.
Some Observations About The Bloody Mary
Recipes vary wildly so I’ve offered up a couple takes below. First, some observations:
•Don’t waste premium vodka in a Bloody Mary. I mean, you can, but what’s the point? The other flavors are so dominant you’ll never taste the difference.
•For tomato juice, you can use something like V8 (or Clamato, if that’s your thing), but I prefer the plain stuff as it allows greater control over the flavor of the final product. Also, V8 is loaded with unnecessary sodium.
•The level of spiciness is a matter of personal taste and not a standard by which a quality Bloody Mary should be judged. I like mine on the mild side since I’m usually drinking them as a hair of the dog, and the last thing I want on top of my hangover is a case of agita.
•Real talk: I hold no love for the extreme garnish trend of piling a salad bar’s worth of fixin’s on top of Bloody Marys. If that’s how you roll, more power to you, but a simple lemon wedge or celery stalk is adequate. Remember, you’re making a cocktail not gazpacho.
Beverages shouldn’t require doggy bags.
Typical Bloody Mary
2 oz. vodka
4 oz. tomato juice
1 oz. lemon juice
3-5 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 dashes celery salt
Tobasco and horseradish to taste (optional)
Directions: Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 20 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a highball glass. Garnish as you will.
The Red Snapper Alternative
Courtesy of the King Cole Bar, New York
1 oz. vodka
2 oz. tomato juice
1 dash lemon juice
2 dashes celery salt
2 dashes black pepper
2 dashes cayenne pepper
3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Directions: Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake for 20 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into a tumbler.
And for good measure here’s Hemingway’s recipe…
From the book, Literary Eats
“To make a pitcher of Blood Marys (any smaller amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. (This is to prevent too rapid melting and watering of our product.) Mix a pint of good Russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice. Add a table spoon full of Worchester Sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but can use A1 or any good beef-steak sauce. Stirr (with two rs). Then add a jigger of fresh squeezed lime juice. Stirr. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful, weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority, add more vodka. Some people like more lime than others. For combating a really terrific hangover, increase the amount of Worcester sauce — but don’t lose the lovely color.”
Jim Sabataso is a writer, part-time bartender, and full-time cocktail enthusiast living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter @JimSabataso