The Bloody Mary has a fascinating backstory, and the regional variations it has inspired range from exceptionally tasty to exceptionally suspect. Its creation owes much to a confluence of events and a specific place in history. Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…
You see, back in the day, vodka was an eastern European drink found very rarely anywhere else (unlike now, when some bars seem to have only vodka in every flavor under the sun). But after the Russian Revolution, exiles made their way to places like western Europe, and with them they brought vodka. Around the same time, canned tomato juice started becoming readily available. So perhaps this drink was simply meant to be.
It started as the Bloody Mary at Harrys (MacHelone) New York Bar in 1920s Paris when barman Fernand “Pete” Petiot first mixed vodka, tomato juice, lemon, Worchestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt. Note: this was Midnight in Paris Paris. Just imagine Hemingway and Ezra Pound tipping a few after a long night of debauchery; both were frequent visitors to Harrys.
After the Russian Revolution, exiles made their way to western Europe, and with them they brought vodka. At the same time, canned tomato juice started becoming readily available. So perhaps this drink was simply meant to be.
The name most likely came from Mary I of England, who, during her five-year reign in the 1550s, reportedly had 280 dissenters killed. Still, the drink didn’t gain worldwide popularity until it reached American shores and King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City. (If you haven’t been and you’re in the area, make the pilgrimage. They still make a killer Bloody Mary, and you can stare up at the fanciest, classiest fart joke ever.)
After Prohibition, Petiot was brought over to the St. Regis to run the bar, leading to the first variation. Vodka was so hard to get in the states in the 1930s that Petiot switched to gin. He was also asked to change the name to the Red Snapper so as not to have the offensive “bloody” on the menu. Here it became a hit, once vodka became available, and the name switched back to the more popular Bloody Mary. The final touch came in 1933 when Petiot added Tabasco, and it became the Bloody we all know.
Since then we have seen so many variations, it’s hard to keep track. The most popular would probably be the huge-in-Canada Bloody Caesar, the Bloody Beer and countless garnitures; I have seen everything from bacon and a hard-boiled egg to oysters and crawfish. Here are some of my favorites. Feel free to share any variations you have come to love.
Bloody Mary (classic)
I like this particular version—more potent than the “juicier” versions of today. As spoken by Pete himself to the New Yorker in 1964:
“I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms.”
You’ll probably also want to garnish with lemon or celery before the old folks start yelling at you.
See the next page for the Bloody Caesar, Bloody Beer and my favorite variation. You can garnish however you see fit. Just be careful with raw shellfish—it can just make the hangover worse sometimes.