Bloody Mary Origin Story
As is the case with many cocktails, there are several competing origin stories about the development of the Bloody Mary. However, one of the most popular stories claims the original recipe was created at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, France. Around 1920, Harry’s bartender Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot began experimenting with new vodka cocktails to cater to a recent influx of Russian immigrants. At the same time, American canned tomato juice was becoming more common in French groceries.
Petiot began mixing up new vodka cocktail recipes using tomato juice as a base. After tinkering with several different ingredients and flavors, he eventually landed on a recipe that consisted of tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and lemon. And, according to this origin story, the first Bloody Mary was born.
The drink quickly became popular, and it even had one particularly famous early fan. According to Esquire, Ernest Hemingway was a well-known patron of Harry’s and he particularly enjoyed the Bloody Mary. It’s not the only novel drink that Hemingway was known to enjoy. He has been credited with inventing the Death in the Afternoon cocktail, which is made with one part absinthe and three parts Champagne.
The Bloody Mary’s Namesake
Despite the relatively universal use of the name “Bloody Mary” today, the cocktail went through several name changes early in its history. When it was first created in Paris, it was called the “Bucket of Blood.” It was named after a West Side Chicago nightclub of the same name by visiting American entertainer Roy Barton.
In 1933, businessman Vincent Astor brought over Pete Petiot to man the King Cole Bar at the St. Régis Hotel in New York City. There, Petiot’s cocktail surged in popularity, partially due to its reputation as a cure for hangovers. However, instead of the Bucket of Blood, it was listed on the menu as the “Red Snapper.” This is still the name used for the cocktail at the recently-refurbished King Cole Bar.
There is some debate as to who the “Bloody Mary” namesake references. By the late-1930s, most bars had begun using the name Bloody Mary on their cocktail menus. Most believe the name is a reference to Queen Mary I and her bloody reign over England in the 16th century. However, in a 1939 ad campaign for Smirnoff vodka, entertainer George Jessel claimed to have named the drink after a friend, Mary Geraghty. Regardless of its roots, Bloody Mary stuck, and it’s now the most commonly used name for the cocktail.
In addition to the beverage itself, the Bloody Mary has become known for its various garnishes, which are often substantial. It’s often served with a stalk of celery, which originated as a functional addition. Butch McGuire’s Bar in Chicago claims to be the first location to begin adding a celery stalk to their Bloody Mary as an edible tool that customers could use to stir their drink.
Other common garnishes include green olives, parsley sprigs, and bacon. However, over the years, many restaurants have added garnishes to their Bloody Marys that can rival the size of a full meal. For example, at Party Fowl in Nashville, Tennessee, patrons can order the “Brunch For Two,” which is a 55-ounce Bloody Mary topped with two whole fried cornish game hens, two scotch eggs, eight fried okra, and a whole avocado.
If you’re looking to create your own brunch cocktail masterpiece, some restaurants offer a build-your-own option. For example, Hash Kitchen in Scottsdale, Arizona, features a Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar, which includes over 50 topics for customers to choose from, like ravioli, meatballs, oysters, spicy mango, pickled eggs, and more.
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