On The Sauce
The Bloody Mary, depending on who you ask how you ask them and when, was invented at either a place called Harry’s Bar New York in Paris in the ’40s or at an actual New York bar by a Parisian in the ’20s. In either case, the most likely creator was a Frenchman: Maybe Fernand Petiot, or it might have been Bertin Azimont spurred on by Ernest Hemingway’s desire to get some booze in his belly without his wife Mary smelling it on his breath or maybe Petiot was just riffing off a tomato and vodka cocktail created by comedian George Jessel. Anyway, in 1964, Petiot himself told the New Yorker:
“I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. 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.”
And that’s the basic recipe as it stands today, with embellishments here and there (beyond adding fried chicken, bacon or lobster sliders as garnishes to the basic drink). The cayenne most widely used at the beginning is thought to have been probably Tabasco or Crystal.
At any rate, Hemingway wrote in a letter to Bernard Peyton as an addendum to his recipe for a pitcher of Bloody Marys (he called any smaller amount “worthless”): “I introduced this drink to Hong Kong in 1941 and believe it did more than any other single factor except perhaps the Japanese Army to precipitate the Fall of that Crown Colony.” He goes on to recommend a few drops of a hot sauce from Mexico called Esta Si Pican to be added.
Hemingway called any smaller amount than a pitcher, “worthless”
The basic formula has not changed much, (though not everyone’s recipe calls for a pint of vodka to a pint of tomato juice), but a couple of things remain constant. 1) the cocktail is a crackerjack hangover cure and 2), in the words of writer Wayne Curtis, “Those who consume it after the sun has set possess personality defects and are to be avoided.”
The following are some of the places where you can find some of the better versions of the classic spins on the Bloody Mary and its close Mexican hermanas, the Maria and the Michelada.
Some bloody good drinks
The Westin Hotel, Calgary
For reasons lost to history, a Bloody Mary with a dash of clam juice is a Bloody Caesar, or just a Caesar (not to be confused with the anchovy-spiked salad from Tijuana)—invented by barman Walter Chell at The Calgary Inn in 1969, which today is a Westin. Anyhow, it is the most popular drink in Canada, so have one at the site of the OG.
Kyo Bar Japonais, Montreal
A riff off of Canada’s national drink perfectly melded with the Japanese cuisine this place serves, the Kyo Caesar is made with vodka and shochu and a Clamato base, infused with wasabi and comes with a kimchi garnish where celery or an olive might ordinarily be. Kanpai.
Wilfie & Nell, New York City
This warm West Village pub makes an admirable example of the classic Bloody Mary, but on occasion it has been known to feature a version with a dash of beef bone broth, known classically as a Bloody Bull. Both cocktails feature the bar’s own housemade habanero jam—pure fresh habanero peppers roasted and cooked down with sugar and spice (but ain’t nothing nice, since it’s devilishly hot).
Welcome to the Johnsons, New York City
This bar pours it like you used to when you’d sneak the vodka out of your parents’ liquor cabinet, so its take on the brunch classic (note: no food is served unless you count the spicy, crunchy, pickly things that come with) is a doozy, and while the bar is waiting to reopen, you can order a Rivington that comes in a pack that looks like an IV bag out of a take-out window right there on Rivington.
Named for the Lucinda Williams ode to roadside imbibing (with the lyrics “take a bottle down, drink it down, pass it around”) this Bloody packs a kick with the homemade spicy mix spiked with lemon twists, limes and olives. Enjoy with a classic Fort Pond sunset (but definitely not after).
Green Chile Bloody Maria
Mexicue, New York City
When is a Bloody Mary not bloody and not a Mary? When it’s green from salsa verde and the liquor of choice is tequila. Green Tabasco gives added big Hulk energy.
50 different Micheladas
20/20 Bar & Grill, Los Angeles
Not for the indecisive, the “La Casa de Las Micheladas” offers every variety and flavor of the oft Tajin-rimmed, beer-and-sangrita-based michi you might likely imagine, including versions served in watermelons and in whole pineapples.
Death By Tequila, Encinitas
Don’t let this black cocktail fool you. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Pueblo Viejo reposado (or better yet, a smoky mezcal) mellowly balances out the chili ash syrup that gives the drink its dark heart.
Stingray’s Bar & Grill, New Orleans
How you feel about this drink probably depends on how you feel about your drink looking up at you before you take a sip. It’s more or less a traditional Bloody Mary but topped with a whole fried soft shell crab with pimento olives tooth-picked to the top for eyes and pickled green beans for antennae. Sometimes at Christmas, he gets a little Santa hat. Festive.
Marie’s Bar And Kitchen, New Orleans
On an unassuming corner of Burgundy Street and inexplicably behind a sign that reads “Walter Patrolia Beer Parlor,” the Bloodys here are called Maries for no other reason than it is Marie’s goddamn bar and she’ll call the drink what she wants. Comes topped with some pickled okra and in a big ol‘ styrofoam cup for taking away.