The History of the Bloody Mary

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The “Monstrous Mary” at Caffe 11e Avenue in Washington’s Yakima Valley cannot be captured in a single photo.

“We continued to add local asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, a buttermilk biscuit, a Ghirardelli chocolate Belgian waffle, a ham roll, applewood smoked bacon, breakfast sausages , pepperoni, cheese, black olives, hard-boiled eggs, grapes, blueberries, oranges, a dill pickle, green olives and a Tootsie Pop,” says Debbie Holm, cafe operations manager. “We are having a great time, as are our customers.”

Holm describes what many restaurateurs and bartenders have noticed: when a Bloody Mary defies proportion and logic, everyone wants one. It is a drink with the power of attraction.

The Bloody Mary might not exist at all without the invention of tomato juice by chef Louis Perrin at the French Lick Springs hotel in Indiana in 1917. Nor without the mass distribution of canned tomato juice. by Chicago business giants who “tasted it and saw dollar signs,” says Joshua Emmons, executive chef at the French Lick Resort in Indiana and a culinary historian.

Yes, this Bloody Mary is almost $1,000 / Image courtesy of LAVO Las Vegas

But first, how exactly did we get here – two Cornish hens perched on skewers in a fish bowl at the Party Fowl in Nashville? Or a $995 Ultimate Bloody Mary (not a typo!) at LAVO in Las Vegas?

Many look to two forces for the genesis of showstopper Bloody Mary: Milwaukee-based restaurateur Dave Sobelman and social media.

The power of attraction

Ultimate Bloody Mary
In Wisconsin, Bloody Marys (regardless of size) are traditionally served with a beer / Image courtesy of Anduzzi’s Sports Club

Sobelman opened its first namesake store in 1999 in Milwaukee. His goal was to improve Wisconsin’s popular bar food – a better burger, better fried fish and, yes, a better Bloody Mary. As business picked up, Sobelman noted that many other restaurants offered Bloody Marys topped with jumbo shrimp only on Sundays.

“I thought I wouldn’t wait until Sunday,” he said. “I’m going to put shrimp on [the Bloody Marys] every day. I then started thinking, ‘what else can I add?’

Sobelman bought pickled eggs, sausages, olives, asparagus, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and onions from neighbors at Bay View Packing Company. Around 2012, he posted a video on Facebook of himself topping an already top-heavy assembly of toppings with a cheeseburger slider.

“I asked everyone, ‘Am I going too far?’ There was such a response, we knew we were on to something,” he says.

Lauren Whitman, who started the @bloodymaryaddict Instagram account in 2015, observes that Sobelman then posted a Bloody Mary topped with a whole fried chicken, which “went viral.”

After that, oversized Bloody Marys became a certified trend.

“Social media plays a huge role in this,” says Liz McCray, who started @bloodymaryobsessed over six years ago with an associated blog. “An overdone Bloody Mary makes your establishment stand out, which attracts customers.”

Samantha Scott, marketing director of Anduzzi’s Sports Club in Green Bay, Wisconsin, also observes that photographing these wild drinks is part of the draw.

The History of the Bloody Mary

This topic is about as murky as a good thick tomato juice. But there are a few notable origin stories.

A lasting story is that bartender Fernand “Pete” Petiot, born in Paris in 1900, refined the mixture of vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, lemon, salt, pepper, Tabasco and celery salt with St. Regis Hotel in New York. in 1934. At the St. Regis, the drink was called The Red Snapper, according to Simon Difford, beverage distributor, promoter and publisher, and Octavia Marginean-Tahiroglu, general manager of the St. Regis.

Another theory is that artist George Jessel developed the drink in 1927 after a late night out in Palm Beach, Florida. According to Difford, there is a recipe called “George Jessel’s Pick Me Up” in The World Famous Cotton Club: 1939 Book of Mixed Drinkswhich contains many of the quintessential components of today’s Bloody Mary.

But in a 1964 New Yorker interview, Petiot says the Bloody Mary was “just vodka and tomato juice when I took it back.” That is to say, the pairing may not be exclusive to Petiot, but he likely immortalized the ingredients of what is now considered a traditional Bloody Mary.

Why is it called Bloody Mary?

But where does the term “Bloody Mary” come from? Although the drink is not directly named after Mary I, England’s first queen, the term certainly derives from her heritage.

Jessica Keene, assistant professor of history at Georgian Court University in New Jersey, explains that Mary Tudor’s parents were King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. When Catherine and Henry produced no male heirs, Henry claimed their marriage was illegitimate. The marriage was annulled in 1533 and Mary Tudor was declared a bastard.

“His life and understanding of faith and family was completely stripped from him,” Keene says.

When Tudor finally assumed the throne, she represented a re-emergence of Catholic tradition that was not unpopular. During her reign, around 300 Protestants were executed, hence the nickname “Bloody Mary”.

“She is portrayed as backward, cruel and antiquated. But the Tudor era was bloody and violent. That she survived what she did to become queen is remarkable,” says Keene.

The drink, however, may actually be named after another Mary. Before Petiot worked at the St. Regis, he was at the counter at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. In 2021, Franz-Arthur MacElhone – a great-grandson of Harry founder Harry MacElhone – told The Associated Press that according to alternate legend Petroit named the drink “for a dancer he was very fond of called Mary”.

“She worked at a place in Chicago called the Bucket of Blood,” he continued.

There is yet another theory, which points to none other than the writer Ernest Hemingway as the one who coined the name.

“It was right before he got married, and he was dating someone named Mary,” MacElhone told the AP. Hemingway reportedly requested a drink mixed with juice to mask the smell of alcohol on his breath, and tomato juice made its way into the mix. . “While he was drinking it, he was saying ‘Bloody Mary,'” MacElhone said.

Why have Bloody Marys become a brunch staple?

The instinctive answer, as Sobelman puts it, is that Bloody Marys are considered a “dog hair” style of cocktail. The theory is that the drinks contain antioxidants, vitamins, hydration, sugars and, yes, a little more alcohol, which are supposed to replenish the body after a night of heavy drinking.

However, most health experts claim that drinking “dog hair” drinks rarely has the desired effect. To banish hangovers, good old-fashioned rest and hydration are key.

What are some cool regional Bloody Mary toppings?

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, this brunch staple is often served with a beer, which essayist and Wisconsin native Melissa Faliveno calls “a very important part of the ritual.” A Bloody without a back, in my humble opinion, is not a Bloody at all.

Other standouts include the “Good Karma” Bloody Mary at Lake City Social in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, whose sales generate revenue for local charities. It also highlights popular menu items like hot chicken sandwiches, short ribs and pretzel bites.

Indiana

At 1875: The Steakhouse in French Lick, bartender Tomi Parker infuses black peppercorns into the vodka used for their Bloody Marys. “After just one night, it turns into a delight,” she says.

Maryland

Local seafood and tangy Old Bay seasoning are frequent additions to Maryland Bloody Marys.

For example, the Original Crabcake Factory in Ocean City adds 1/4 pound of giant crabmeat and a fried blue soft-shell crab to its concoctions.

Kentucky

Back in the Bloody Mary game
The return to the game Bloody Mary / Image courtesy of Tommy Johns Neon Bites

In Louisville, Brad Jennings, co-owner and director of beverages at North of Bourbon, substitutes bourbon for vodka at the Bloody Mary house, which is called “Back in the Game.” Jennings shares that the sweetness of the bourbon contrasts nicely with the acidity of the tomato.

Jennings also tops this Bloody with his tasso (cured ham) rub and house-pickled okra, both of which reference Southern traditions of stretching proteins and vegetables during the winter months.

Caroline from the south

Captain Bloody Mary
Captain Bloody Mary / Image courtesy of Darling Oyster Bar Charleston

In addition to a chilli deviled egg and country ham, The Nose Dive in Greenville adds candied bacon with brown sugar and hot Sriracha sauce.

“Sugar caramelizes, so [the bacon] stands up in the drink,” says Jason Phillips, general manager.

Meanwhile, in Charleston, The Captain, Darling Oyster Bar’s Sunday Bloody Mary, is topped with marinated local prawns and a homemade hush puppy.

Minnesota

Hell’s Kitchen Minneapolis, owned by employees, offers a 35-foot Jacked Up Bloody Mary & Mimosa bar with 243 hot sauces, in addition to “gourmet rim salts, olives, meats, cheeses, peppers and dozens of other toppings.”

California

Cafe 21 in San Diego incorporates local tomatoes, house-pickled vegetables, and a four-cheese grilled cheese made with bread baked on site into their Bloody Marys.

“It’s pure perfection,” says McCray.

Florida

Rita Lewis, owner of Linger Lodge in Bradenton, highlights local dishes like Gulf prawns and fried mahi in some variations.

“We get creative every week. It’s like painting a masterpiece,” says Lewis.

Why is Bloody Mary such an easy drink to experiment with?

Emmons says that because a Bloody Mary is often served in a pint glass, there’s “real estate” to play with. Phillips adds that the drink can be treated almost like a cold tomato-based soup; a variety of spices and seasonings work. McCray also suggests that the Bloody Mary’s versatility is due to its flavorful umami base.

All of the above makes it clear why the Bloody Mary evolved into its current exaggerated form. It does not hurt that such creations photograph well. But don’t think of the drink as a brunch-time social media stunt.

“Bloody Marys are so much more than a hangover cure,” says McCray. “Behind every Bloody Mary is a story of passion, handed down recipes and creators – bartenders, restaurateurs, mix suppliers and home DIYers who are proud to share their creations with the world.”

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