In 1969, the owners of the Calgary Inn in Calgary, Alberta, asked Walter Chell, the Montenegrin who presided over their Owl’s Nest bar, to create a recipe to represent their new Italian restaurant in a contest. So he took some vodka, a bit of Worcestershire and a little Tabasco, added a mix of clam and tomato juices to it and dubbed it the “Bloody Caesar.” It sounds rather odd, but it’s the national drink of Canada and has been practically since Chell invented—or should I say “invented”—it.
There are two ways to be the creator of a cocktail. You can be the undisputed first person ever to put a certain set of ingredients together in a glass. There is much honor in that, to be sure, though there is rarely much fame.
Or you can take a pre-existing combination of ingredients and give it a catchy new name and backstory. You then proceed to sell it like crazy, and if you’re good, your creation suddenly catches on. This might not be particularly honorable (although that’s definitely open to debate), but it’s certainly plenty of fun—and sometimes you end up famous.
Jerry Thomas, founding father of the American bar, was that second type of mixologist. He took the Tom & Jerry, an obscure New England concoction that had been around since before he was born, and made it his own, riding it into the pages of history.
Which kind of inventor was Chell?
Chell was a hell of a bartender, there’s no doubt about that. But as far back as 1953, Walter Winchell was writing about a Smirnoff Smiler, which called for vodka, clam juice, tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce. And in 1968, Clamato (that’s the duo of clam and tomato juices) was pushing a Clam Digger, which is basically the same tipple without the spices. But nobody asks for Clam Diggers or Smirnoff Smilers these days.
It’s one thing to mix a drink; it’s another to get people to order it. Chell got a whole country to do that. Now, that’s some fancy inventing.
Contributed by David Wondrich
- Celery salt
- 1.5 oz Vodka
- 4 oz Clamato
- 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 2 dashes Tabasco Sauce
- Prepared horseradish, to taste (optional)
- Garnish: Celery stalk
- Glass: Tall
Coat the rim of a tall glass with celery salt, fill with ice and set aside. Add the remaining ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Pour back and forth into another mixing glass a few times to mix. Strain into the prepared glass and garnish with a celery stalk.
Thirsty for more Bloody Mary recipes and info? Check out our guide to the savory classic cocktail.