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CocktailsHere’s the fascinating story behind your Bloody Mary

Reading Time: 6 mins

Posted on the 29 April 18

Ah, the Bloody Mary.

Indulgently rich and ruby red. A classic combination of two superbly simple ingredients; vodka and tomato juice. Although, like every cocktail, people have been experimenting with their own recipes as long as it’s been around.

Whether you’re a purist, sticking only to salt, pepper, lemon and Worcester sauce, or like to ride on the wilder side. Maybe a hint of hot sauce or a beefy base of bouillon? How about garnishing your glass with smoked fish, shrimp, pretzels, popcorn or even a pork rib or two… It’s been known to happen. 

Put simply, there’s a Bloody Mary out there for everybody. That’s the beauty of it.

But, whatever you – or your bartender – wish to throw in, we must remember the basic pillars of this pliable cocktail recipe.

After all, it’s the key ingredients that earned the drink such notoriety as a failsafe hangover cure… simultaneously creating a socially acceptable way to enjoy alcohol first thing in the morning.

Nope, a good Bloody Mary will banish anything you’ve got – thanks to the pairing of a heavy vegetable base (to settle the stomach) and salt (to replenish electrolytes) with alcohol (to relieve the headache) – and of course, help you swiftly forget about the night before.

But who was the mastermind behind our beloved breakfast tradition? Who created such a ‘hair of the dog’ icon?

Who created the Bloody Mary?

While countless lay claim to the creation of this timeless classic, there’s one story that sticks.

It’s said that the first Bloody Mary was made in Paris during the 1920s, when many freewheeling Americans fled to the party capitals of Europe to escape Prohibition.

A popular haunt was Harry’s New York Bar, which had opened a decade or so ago in 1911. Eponymous owner Harry MacElhone had opened an establishment true to its name; having dismantled a grand mahogany bar in downtown New York, shipped it to France, and rebuilt the thing at the address 5 Rue Danou in central Paris. 

Harry’s New York Bar at 5 Rue Danou in Paris, pictured as it is today.

And so, throughout The Roaring Twenties, the novelty New York-style bar soon became a welcome destination for booze-starved Americans in search of a party.

So much so, the Parisian taxi drivers soon became accustomed to the thirsty cries of “Sank Roo Doe Noo!” – an immortal phrase which still adorns the windows of the now-century-old bar today.

It was around the same time that another new group of patrons started to flood the backstreets and busy drinkeries of bourgeoisie Paris. Émigrés escaping the Russian Revolution had arrived, proffering two new exotic products… Vodka and caviar.

Head bartender at Harry’s, Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot, was inspired by the unusual wares; and quickly began experimenting with the mysterious spirit.

Although he was said to have found it bland in the beginning, his new-found American friends had not-long introduced him to tinned tomato juice – and over the next year, Petiot would make vodka drink after vodka drink until one day, on the request of a customer, he mixed the two together.

And The Bloody Mary was born.

Where did the name come from?

Unfortunately, asking how the name Bloody Mary came about it a bit like asking us our to name our favourite rum. Impossible. There are simply too many stories to choose from – too many to indulge in.

Some drink aficionados believe it was Hollywood starlet Mary Pickford that inspired the name; American sweetheart and rouge-lipped darling of the silent film era.

Famed for her meteoric rise to stardom and pioneering work in the world of motion pictures, she was the first real ‘movie star’ to millions. We can only be thankful she went by her on-screen moniker Mary, and not her given name… Gladys.  

Others claim the name in English “simply arose from a failure to pronounce the Slav syllables of a drink called Vladimir”. Say it with us. Vladimir. Bloody Mare. Almost.

Although at first we raised eyebrows, this more outlandish claim gains credibility on finding out the name of the customer who sat across the bar from Petiot at Harry’s in Paris all those years ago.

The adventurous drinker in question, who had requested the two iconic ingredients be mixed together in the first place, is said to be none other than Vladimir Smirnov, of the Smirnoff vodka family.

Today, the bartenders at Harry’s remember the story differently. Bar manager Alain Da Silver stated in an interview in 2011: “Legend has it a patron in the 1920s, on being presented with one of the earliest Bloody Mary cocktails, declared “It looks like my girlfriend who I met in a cabaret”. As the story goes, the cabaret’s name was the Bucket of Blood and the girlfriend’s name was Mary; so Petiot agreed on the name.”

Lastly, and perhaps our favourite of all tales, is the more gruesome notion that the drink gets its nickname after Queen Mary I of England.

Infamous for beheading and burning hundreds of people at the stake during her reign, the name is said to be inspired by the drink’s – how shall we put this –  gory aesthetic? Fascinating… But frankly, rather less appetising. Especially once you’ve got your head around it. 

The perfect Bloody Mary

Iconic and indulgent. What else would you want on a morning after?

How to make the perfect Bloody Mary

On how to mix the perfect drink, who else but to ask, than the master, the creator, the talented Fernand Petiot himself? Fortunately, he’s on record; speaking to The New Yorker magazine in July 1964. He said:

“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.”

For us? Our Caribbean heritage shines through in a unique take on the classic. Our very own Bloody Mary swaps Worcester sauce for rum sauce, and includes a pop of cajun spice to turn up the heat.

Served with crispy pork crackling for that all-important crunch, and an umami-satisfying saltiness… It’s not half bad – even if we do say so ourselves.

However you like yours, one thing’s for sure; while it may be open to interpretation, the Bloody Mary is a cocktail institution.

In all its forms, it’s one hell of a drink. And whether you’re hungover or not – well, that’s another story.


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