Is there a more polarizing drink than the Bloody Mary? Not only is it entirely sequestered to a time of day (morning, or however that word applies to the time of day you wake up—no judgments) and kind of meal (generally before lunch or in lieu of it), it isn’t a drink about which one feels neutral. You love them or you simply do not cleave to the flavors of tomato, lemon, spice and alcohol.
But for those who crave their lycopene sipped through a straw and with a whole lot of kick, there are some interesting aspects of the brunch-blessed libation to consider. Gnaw on a celery stick and consider these six.
1. The Big Apple Invented the Big Tomato Drink
There are differing versions of the Bloody Mary’s origins, but it all points to the mid-1930s and one Fernand “Pete” Petiot, a bartender at King Cole Bar at the St. Regis hotel in New York City. Prior to the St. Regis, Petiot tended at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in the 1920s—the other spot given credit for the Bloody’s birth. But it’s unlikely that the drink was served en masse at the famed Parisian watering hole, says Brian Bartels, the author of “The Bloody Mary” and partner and cocktail generator for Happy Cooking Hospitality.
“It was impossible. They did not have all same ingredients,” says Bartels, the most important being canned tomato juice. “They’d actually have to muddle tomatoes to get the juice, and that would take forever.”
It might be possible, however, that Petiot had occasionally slung an early progenitor of the cocktail for two reasons: 1) Some form of canned tomatoes may well have been available, as the idea for commercial canning of food in both jars and tin cans was discovered and perfected by two French inventors in the very early part of the 19th century. And 2) Tabasco founder Edmund McIlhenny opened the company’s first European trade office in 1872. So Tabasco could have made it to the bar at Harry’s. But as a recipe for it does not appear in owner Harry McElhone’s cocktail tome of 1927, “Barflies and Cocktails,” credit for the drink as we know it today goes to the St. Regis.
2. It Has Seven Staple Ingredients
Riffs and creativity notwithstanding, there are seven ingredients to a traditional Bloody Mary, according to Bartels. “The seven ingredients that I associate with Petiot and the King Cole Bar would be vodka, Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, black pepper, celery salt, Tabasco and lemon juice.” Swap out the vodka for tequila, and you have a Bloody Maria. Prefer gin? Just call it a Red Snapper, please. The addition of clam juice gives you Canada’s Bloody Caesar, and beef broth makes it a Bloody Bull. But if you want the original, stick to the original lucky seven.
3. Indiana’s Got the Juice
You might have to thank the Hoosier State for the commercial popularity of tomato juice and, thus, the easy availability of the Bloody’s biggest ingredient. So the story goes, it was at the French Lick Springs hotel in French Lick, Ind., where allegedly the first glass of tomato juice was served in 1917 by chef Louis Perrin.
Tomatoes were a prolific crop in both Indiana and neighboring Ohio, so when Perrin realized he didn’t have enough oranges to juice for a summer morning breakfast banquet, he swapped out the juice of the state’s popular red fruit instead, straining out the seeds and zipping up the flavor with a little salt and sugar. Voila—tomato juice! Of course, it’s likely that people have been consuming tomato juice for as long as there have been tomatoes, but Perrin is the guy who gets credit for making it a thing and inspiring a small cottage industry of tomato plants, to boot.
4. Smirnoff Got the Tomato Rolling
Although its name originated from its 19th-century Moscow-born creator, Pyotr Smirnov, he sold the rights to the Smirnoff recipe and name to one Rudolph Kunett, in Bethel, Conn., which was then bought by Heublein Imports and moved to Hartford, according to Jeffrey Pogash, the author of “Bloody Mary.” And that’s when the Bloody Mary got its boost.
“In the 1950s and early 1960s, Heublein spent millions of dollars to promote cocktails made with its spirits, in print ads in national publications such as ‘Playboy,’” says Pogash. In 1956, popular comedian George Jessel was featured in Smirnoff’s national Bloody Mary advertisements, says Pogash, and claimed he was the creator of the drink. Because Jessel was popular, the drink’s status was elevated to en vogue. As vodka’s star began to soar, the Bloody Mary went along for the ride, and everyone believed Jessel was the genius behind the staple brunch beverage. “Because he was given this advertising soap box to stand on, he could say, ‘I invented electricity!’” says Bartels laughing. “No one was claiming it, and it was not documented or in print, and Perrin was a rep for Smirnoff. It would be like Mila Kunis saying she invented bourbon for Jim Beam.”
5. Chicago Gave It Celery
While the Bloody Mary garnish has taken on entirely new proportions, the traditional celery stalk garnish attributed to the Chicago’s famed Pump Room. In 1970, the story goes that a server or bartender was looking for a straw for a Bloody Mary, and next to the garnish station were these stalks of celery, so he used it instead. “Next thing you know, it’s popping up everywhere and part of the drink’s iconic image.” says Bartels. “It’s almost like a flag.”
6. The Drink Has Given Us Garnish Wars
There’s something about a toothpick that gets the creative Bloody juices flowing, but the last decade has seen a definitive increase tilting in favor of the edible portion of the garnish-to-drink ratio. From Sobelman’s Pub & Grill in Milwaukee, Wis., famed for adorning drinks with more than a dozen items, including full-on cheeseburgers and even a whole fried chicken, to the meat-and-potatoes stylings of Atlanta’s Nook—its 32-ounce Bloody gets the full-meal treatment with slices of steak, Tater Tots, a hunk of bread, and a hard-boiled egg, among other noshables—there’s no limit to what a Bloody Mary will bear.