Words by: Simon Difford & Jack McGarry
Bloody Mary recipes are as personal as those for Martinis. Purists will only use pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and lemon to spice up tomato juice and vodka, but everything from oysters to V8 can be added. But what makes the perfect Bloody Mary? And what's the full story and history behind this famous brunch cocktail?
Such is the notoriety of the Bloody Mary that it has its own National Day with the 1st of January (unofficially) declared Bloody Mary Day in the USA - so by extension much of the cocktail-drinking world. This can be a truly great cocktail so deserved of such reverence, but it can also be weak, insipid and downright disappointing. The trick is to use great ingredients, a good recipe and employ the right techniques:
Our recommended Bloody Mary recipe calls for vodka, tomato juice, pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and celery salt. These are now common ingredients to almost all modern-day Bloody Marys. Our recipe also uses lemon juice to add freshness and its inclusion is also becoming the norm. My own Bloody Mary recipe [demonstrated in the video above] uses all these ingredients with a little sugar to balance the addition of lemon juice and amplify the flavours of the other ingredients. I also add sherry and bell pepper juice to contribute more flavour and freshness.
Other variations include:
Asian Mary (with wasabi, ginger & soy sauce)
Bloody Bull (with beef consommé)
Bloody Caesar (with clam juice)
Bloody Joseph (with Scotch whisky)
Bloody Maria (with tequila)
Bloody Maru (with sake)
Bloody Shame (without alcohol)
Bull Shot (with beef bouillon)
Cubanita (with rum)
Red Snapper (with gin)
A Bloody Mary tastes better if the tomato juice retains some viscosity. Thin/dilute tomato juice detracts from the drink, no matter how balanced and perfectly spiced to suit the drinker's taste. Shaking tends to detrimentally affect viscosity so it's better to simply turn the shaker over and over in a gentle revolving motion, rather than shaking (see video above). I recommend 20 revolutions with ice cubes taken straight from a freezer (not ice machine) by which time the outside of the shaker should be thoroughly frosted.
There is also debate as to whether it is best to serve a Bloody Mary with or without ice. The answer is with ice, but that ice should come straight from a freezer. Ice-machine ice is too wet, even straight from the machine. Consider making a long single column of ice made using a mould or cut from a block of ice as this will not only look good but also keep the drink cold while giving minimal dilution.
The creation of the Bloody Mary is often credited to Fernand Petiot in the 1920s while a young bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris. However, it appears he simply spiced up an existing and well-established combo of vodka and tomato juice while working at the St. Regis Hotel, New York City during the 1940s.
The true originator of savoury blend of vodka and tomato juice was probably George Jessel, Hollywood star of the 1920s-1950s, and it looks likely that he also christened his favourite drink Bloody Mary.
Follows what is surely the most comprehensive history of how the drink we know today as the Bloody Mary was created and named. Written by Jack McGarry of New York's Dead Rabbit, this detailed account was first published on this site in March 2012 and we believe remains the most authoritative.
Fernand Petiot was born in Paris on the 18th February 1900. From a very early age young Petiot got his fingers dirty in the hospitality industry, helping his parents run a 60-room mansion, in particular helping his mum in the kitchen. He started in the New York Bar (not yet called 'Harry's') in Paris aged 16: his previous experience with his mother helped him secure a job there as a kitchen porter. It is believed that only two years later he married Ruth, although death records show Ruth had two children to other men. (The 1930 U.S. Federal Population Census shows that Petiot was in the same household as Ruth Petiot but the kids have different surnames - Victor Miller and Charles Oliver.)
It is claimed he created the Blood Mary while he was behind the stick of Harry's New York, Paris during the early 1920s, with 1921 most frequently cited as the key date - which would have meant it was created when it was still under the ownership of Ted Sloan. The former American jockey Ted Sloan had procured a site situated on 5 Rue Daunou in 1911. He changed what was a bistro into an American bar and called it The New York Bar.
It was Sloan who appointed Harry MacElhone - a Scottish bartender with a terrific résumé. Harry used to tend bar in Manhattan's New York Plaza Hotel and also in London's swanky Ciro's Club. Sloan's bar was beginning to capitalize on the number of US servicemen in Europe and members of the American Field Service Ambulance Corps in particular called Harry's home for a large portion of World War One and many other expats also frequented it.
Sloan's gambling problems and lavish lifestyle eventually took its toll. He was forced to sell the business to MacElhone in 1923 and retire back to the US. MacElhone simply added "Harry" in front of the name and "Harry's New York Bar" was born. Harry's had by this time become a frequent hangout for Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Rita Hayworth, Humphrey Bogart and many other famous international and American icons.
Asking how the name of the Bloody Mary originated is a bit like asking Hugh Hefner the name of his girlfriend. There's not one - there are plenty. The most popular story is that Petiot named it after Queen Mary Tudor of England. She had taken the throne after a short battle against her dying brother Edward VI's wishes and the machinations of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. Queen Mary was fanatical supporter of the Catholic religion and it's well documented how much she detested the exploits of her father's divorce and schism that saw the creation of The Church of England.
Mary's 'Bloody' moniker is related to some of her first acts as Queen: first came the execution of Dudley and then the reinstitution of the Heresy Acts in 1554. Under the Acts many, many protestants were killed under the Marian Persecutions, the main method of execution being death by fire. It's believed many of the 283 killed under the Heresy Act died this way and gave Mary the unofficial title Queen "Bloody" Mary.
Another source of inspiration Petiot is accused of tapping into is that of The Bucket of Blood Saloon from Chicago, Illinois. One of the first and only appearances in print referencing the saloon occurs on the 25th February 1916 in an article published in the Chicago Tribune, under the title of "Five Cabarets Violate Law, Aldermen Hear", relating to selling booze after-hours. It said the Bucket of Blood was "a small, dark, sordid, dismal place and we couldn't stand it very long". It was owned by George B. Dulgate, whose wife was indicted for the death of Marie Benzing, resulting from a botched abortion. However, it wasn't until Prohibition that the Bucket of Blood saloon received its knockout punch.
The actual name for Bucket of Blood is believed to stem from the way bar owners would throw the dirty, blood-stained water mopped from the floor after brawls and fatal stabbings into the street. The theory goes that a patron of Ted Sloan's New York Bar called Roy Barton, an American entertainer, recommended Petiot should name his drink the Bloody Mary after a waitress called Mary that worked in the Bucket of Blood. Petiot recalled this himself in an interview he gave to the Cleveland Press in January 1972.
Petiot and the Bloody Mary made a swift jaunt across the English Channel during the year of 1925. According to an interview he gave The New Yorker in July 1965, he claimed to have worked at the Savoy Hotel and that it was here that Mary Duke Biddle, then owner of the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, discovered his talents, though it wasn't until 1934, after Prohibition's repeal the previous December, that Petiot took up his place as head bartender of the St. Regis. One of Petiot's famous customers during this period was renowned gangster Frank Costello, who once stated that Petiot had served every US president from 1934 to 1972 except Lyndon B. Johnson.
Petiot became one of New York's most popular bartenders until his retirement in 1966. Whilst at the St. Regis Hotel he presided over the King Cole Bar, introducing New Yorkers to his creation - with a helping hand believed to have provided by the Russian Prince Serge Obolensky who ordered a Bloody Mary from Petiot but he wanted it with extra spice. Petiot added Tabasco and the formula was seemingly complete.
Around 1935, the Bloody Mary became known as the Red Snapper. As one story has it, it was Vincent Astor, who took ownership of the hotel in 1935, who objected to the Bloody Mary name and insisted it be changed due to its vulgarity. Also, it is believed at this point that the base spirit of the Bloody Mary changed from vodka to gin - vodka was a rare commodity in America until the Heublein Company began promoting its domestically distilled Smirnoff vodka in the late 1940s, but it took years of promotion before the clear spirit found its way into home liquor cabinets in the 'white whiskey' boom.
Upon his retirement in 1966, Petiot moved to Canton, Ohio, where he bartended occasionally at Mergus Restaurant. He would die in the city in early January 1975, aged 74.
Another name which is often associated with the Bloody Mary is that of George Jessel, known as the "Toastmaster General of the United States" for his frequent role of master of ceremonies at major gatherings. In his autobiography, The World I lived In!, he claimed to have created the drink during 1927 in Palm Beach, providing another narrative to its birth but arguably clouding the issue even further.
George Jessel was born into a poor Jewish family in the Harlem area of Manhattan, New York on the 3rd of April 1898. His father died in 1909. George soon had to find paying work to sustain the family's existence, and he started his working life on Broadway appearing firstly in Vaudeville acts. One famed act of his was The Jazz Singer which became the first talking motion picture in 1927 starring Al Jolson (Jessel himself would have starred in the picture had it not been for a feud he was having with Warner Brothers).
He did, however, go on to star in films in the 1920s, notably Private Izzy Murphy in 1926. As Vaudeville became passé, George turned to Broadway. He starred in The War Song (1928), and Joseph and Sweet and Low, both in 1930. He also produced six other Broadway shows, the majority being musicals, from 1943-1953. Unlike many Jewish entertainers of the time, Jessel didn't try to hide his ethnicity. In fact, he embraced it, incorporating many Yiddishisms into his comedy
Despite a colourful personal life that encompassed three marriages, affairs and a notorious shooting incident, in 1969 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honoured him for his charity work, and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Jessel died of a heart attack in 1981 at the age of 83 in Los Angeles.
So that's his story, but what about his relationship with the Bloody Mary? This is the key evidence, from his own words in his autobiography The World I Lived In! published in 1975:
"In 1927, I was living in Palm Beach, or on a short visit, I don't remember which, where nearly every year I captained a softball team for a game against the elite of Palm Beach such as the Woolworth Donohues, the Al Vanderbilts, the Reeves, and their ilk. My team was made up of rag-tag New York cafe society. Because I had been around Broadway and baseball characters, I managed to slip in a ringer now and again. We generally won.
"Following the game myself, and a guy named Elliott Sperver, a Philadelphia playboy, went to La Maze's and started swilling champagne. We were still going strong at 8:00am the next morning. I had a 9:30 volleyball date with Al Vanderbilt. I was feeling no pain at all. We tried everything to kill our hangovers and sober up. Then Charlie, the bartender, enjoying our plight, reached behind the bar.
"'Here, Georgie, try this,' he said, holding up a dusty bottle I had never seen before. 'They call it vodkee. We've had it for six years and nobody has ever asked for it....'
"I looked at it, sniffed it. It was pretty pungent and smelled like rotten potatoes. 'Hell, what have we got to lose? Get me some Worcestershire sauce, some tomato juice, and lemon; that ought to kill the smell,' I commanded Charlie. I also remembered that Constance Talmadge, destined to be my future sister-in-law, always used to drink something with tomatoes in it to clear her head the next morning and it always worked - at least for her.
"'We've tried everything else, boys, we might as well try this,' I said as I started mixing the ingredients in a large glass. After we had taken a few quaffs, we all started to feel a little better. The mixture seemed to knock out the butterflies.
"Just at that moment, Mary Brown Warburton walked in. A member of the Philadelphia branch of the Wanamaker department store family, she liked to be around show business people and later had a fling with Ted Healey, the comic. She had obviously been out all night because she was still dressed in a beautiful white evening dress. 'Here, Mary, take a taste of this and see what you think of it.' Just as she did, she spilled some down the front of her white evening gown, took one look at the mess, and laughed, 'Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!'
"From that day to this, the concoction I put together at La Maze's has remained a Bloody Mary with very few variations. Charlie pushed it every morning when "the gang" was under the weather. Now, about a year later, the benefit for Joe E. Lewis was to be held at the Oriental Theater and I was sitting in my hotel room with Ted Healey before leaving for the theater. Ted, as usual, was slightly inebriated. He happened to pick up a copy of a Chicago paper and read an item in Winchell's column. It said that I had named the Bloody Mary after Ted's then steady girl, Mary Brown Warburton.
"Ted turned white. 'What the hell are you doing making a pass at my girl, you son of a bitch,' he yelled. And just as he did, he pulled out a pistol and tried to shoot me. I ducked and the shot missed, but as the pistol went off within a foot of my right ear, I was completely deaf for a week. I had a hell of a job doing the benefit that night."
One of the first - if not the first - documentations of the Bloody Mary comes from one of George Jessel's old Vaudeville pals Walter Winchell. Winchell had a gossip column in the Chicago Tribune, and it was in one of these, on April 3rd, 1939, that he stated: "The cast of the Hasty Pudding show have a new form of Mickey which doesn't make them "ick"... It is vodka with tomato juice." This came a few months prior to a reference made by the famed San Francisco Chronicle journalist, author of The Stork Club Bar Book(1946) and also one of the world's most pre-eminent gourmands, Lucius Beebe. In his gossip column "This New York" on December 2nd 1939, which was featured in The New York Herald, Lucius wrote: "George Jessel's newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town's paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka."
It was indeed Lucius Beebe's Stork Club Bar Book which listed the first Bloody Mary in 1946. Beebe's listed recipe was as follows;
Bloody Mary - Lucius Beebe's recipe
6oz Tomato Juice
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Juice of half a lemon
Method: Shake together with ice or mix in Waring mixer and serve cold in highball glass
However, the Red Snapper was listed in a cocktail book five years prior to Beebe's reference. The Snapper was first documented in Crosby Gaiges Cocktail Guide and Ladies Companion published in 1941: "Mr. Lauryssen, as host at the St. Regis, has made that hotel an exemplar of excellence and subdued but authentic excellence... Old King Cole presides with pleasantly vacuous hospitality over the bar from which Mr. Lauryssen sends me two recipes from Queen Cole's household book."
Red Snapper - Crosby Gaiges' recipe
2oz tomato juice
½ teaspoon Worcestershire
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1 dash of lemon juice
Salt, pepper and red pepper to taste
Method: Shake well and serve in a Delmonico glass
The King Cole Bar at St. Regis, New York City
Fernand 'Pete' Petiot acknowledged Jessel's role in the development in the Bloody Mary in an interview with The New Yorker on the 18th July 1964. "I initiated the Bloody Mary of today... Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the cocktail 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. We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms."
A Virginia newspaper also featured a Bloody Mary recipe. The Bee documented a formula on the 22nd April, 1946 which features the somewhat prerequisite addition, Tabasco sauce.
Trader Vic listed a Bloody Mary in his Bartender's Guide published in 1947. His recipe appears to be very simple: "1½oz vodka and fill the balance with tomato juice."
During the 1950s there was a proliferation in documented Bloody Marys. Jack Townsend in The Bartender Book published a Bloody Mary in 1951.
Bloody Mary - Jack Townsend
6oz Tomato Juice
2 dashes Angostura
Juice of half a lemon
Ted Saucier also includes three recipes for the Bloody Mary in his book Bottoms Up!. It was also published in 1951.
Bloody Bloody Mary - Ted Saucier
1½ oz Vodka
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
Dash celery salt
Method: Shake and serve in an Old Fashioned glass over a lump of ice, garnish with a mint sprig
Bloody Mary - Courtesy, Hotel Del Monte, California
½ tomato juice
Method: Serve in an Old fashioned glass with a lump of ice
Bloody Mary La Milo - Milo J. Sutliff Publisher, New York City
2oz Tomato juice
1oz Clam juice
1tsp Worcestershire sauce
Method: Stir tomato juice and clam juice together, and add Worcestershire sauce. Pour this mixture over one inch of cracked ice in a blender. Add vodka, turn switch on and agitate for 10 seconds. Serve in a 3oz glass (this makes two cocktails).
David Embury also wades into the argument with his characteristic brutal honesty. The Bloody Mary appears in his 1952 revision of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. He states: "A classic example of combining in one potion both the poison and the antidote. As usual proportions vary all over the map according to the whim of the individual author of bartender. Frequent additions are Tabasco, Worcestershire or A1 sauce. Sometimes a little lemon is mixed." Embury's is the first bar guide - notwithstanding The Bee - I've been able to find that lists Tabasco as an ingredient. Another real important aspect here is that Embury noticed the diversity in Bloody Mary recipes. As Robert Hess succinctly points out, the Bloody Mary" is the meatloaf of the cocktail world".
Two magazines appear to substantiate the evolution of the Bloody Mary and consummate the notion of it becoming a brunch drink. In 1952 The Fort Pierce Tribune in Florida states: "The most popular right now is the 'Bloody Mary' or 'Red Snapper' - a big glass of tomato juice with Worcestershire sauce, celery salt, and a jigger of vodka."
House & Garden Magazine published a piece in January 1956: "Many people feel that the Bloody Mary is the answer to all next day worries and since its creation it has become one of the two most favorite lunch time cocktails in New York."
Also in 1956 George Jessel himself appeared in an advertisement for Smirnoff Vodka in Colliers Magazine of March 30th. In the ad, Jessel claims: "I think I invented the Bloody Mary, Red-Snapper, Tomato Pick-up, or Morning Glory. It happened on a night before a day and I felt I should take some good, nourishing tomato juice, but what I really wanted was some of your good Smirnoff vodka. So I mixed them together, the juice for the body and the vodka for the spirit, and if I wasn't the first ever I was the happiest." I can only think that Jessel must have been flat broke, willing to put his name against this tosh.
1956 was a busy year for the Bloody Mary too. The most interesting recipe to date surfaces during this year, by Frederic Birmingham, author of Esquire's Drink Book. His recipe is as follows:
Bloody Mary - Frederic Birmingham
8oz Tomato Juice
Juice of two lemons
White of one egg
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 celery leaves
4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
The final piece of information comes courtesy of Dale DeGroff who conducted a phone interview with Duncan MacElhone in 1997, Harry MacElhone's grandson. In his wonderful Essential Cocktail, Dale says, "that Pete served the drink to a lady named Mary who sat at the bar for long hours pining for a boyfriend who seldom kept appointments with her. Pete named the drink after her. In Duncan's words 'That's the story I was told, and it is good enough for me.'"
None of these 'origins' above pay any attention to the fact that the essential Bloody Mary structure was first formulated during the late 19th century. Drinks historians Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown, in their Spirituous Journey, Volume II, they uncover the oyster cocktail. "The essential Bloody Mary formula - tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, horseradish, Tabasco sauce, other hot sauces, salt and pepper - had been around since the nineteenth century, but it was a virgin birth," they state - i.e. it contained no alcohol.
They discovered this, published on the 12th March 1892 in London's Hospital Gazette: "A recipe returned from over sea. It is reported that at the Manhattan Club in New York a warm beverage, called an 'oyster cocktail,' is largely dispensed. For the benefit of those who may be possessed of suicidal intentions, I give the recipe. Seven small oysters are dropped into a tumbler, to which must be added a pinch of salt, three drops of fiery Tobasco sauce, three drops of Mexican Chili sauce, and a spoonful of lemon juice. To this mixture add a little horseradish, and green pepper sauce, African pepper ketchup, black pepper, and fill up with tomato juice. This should be stirred with a spoon, very slightly crushing the oysters, which are then lifted out and eaten, the liquid following as a cocktail."
The oyster cocktail evolved into the tomato juice cocktail - at this time still with no alcohol. As Miller and Brown point out: "When the French Lick Springs Hotel resort in Indiana ran out of orange juice one day in 1917, its French chef Louis Perrin offered guests tomato juice. It was an immediate hit. Within three years, a handful of companies started commercial production. But canned tomato juice did not take off until Chicago hotelier Ernest Byfield tasted his first glass of tomato juice cocktail, in 1917."
In 1934 Time Magazine adds weight to Byfield's role. "Before 1928 tomato juice was used chiefly for invalids and babies who needed its vitamins. Packers did not produce enough to warrant keeping separate figures... Last year as tomato juice took its place on nearly every restaurant menu on the land, output was estimated at 5,000,000 cases, worth $8,500,000. The rise in tomato juice sales has been the most spectacular of any food during the depression... The man who put the spice tomato juice cocktail on the map was Ernest Byfield, Chicago's most famed hotelkeeper."
The Daily Mail published an obituary for Byfield on February 26th, 1950 and went one step further. "Byfield's anecdotes run into scores of life. He is acknowledged as the inventor of the tomato juice cocktail - pioneer in a field which now sells canned tomato juice by the millions." What's important here is that Ernie brought the tomato juice cocktail to widespread audience.
Ernest Byfield's relationship with the Bloody Mary doesn't end with canned tomato juice cocktails. On October 1st 1938, Byfield opened The Pump Room which is a restaurant located in the Public Chicago hotel, formerly The Ambassador East, in Chicago's Gold Coast area. The Pump Room became, in Byfield's word, "the most famous restaurant in the USA". The famed Booth No.1 became a magnet for stage and screen stars of the 1930s, 40s & 50s. Stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, Sammy Davis Jr., Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin and Elizabeth Taylor all dined at Booth No.1 with Byfield and they would often boost to friends that they had lunched with Ernie. With that, the tomato juice cocktail's own star was starting to really shine.
Tomato juice cocktail recipes from the 1920s add weight to the emergence of the Bloody Mary in America, rather than the common theory of it having been created in Paris.
The California Bee, California, November 9th, 1928: "The tomato juice cocktail has taken its place in society...For adults, many like to chill the juice and season it with salt, lemon juice, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce."
Here's How Again! by Judge Jr., 1929: "The Tomato Cocktail...Take a can of tomato soup and place in a shaker full of ice. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and shake well."
Noble Experiments (the third volume in the Here's How series), by Judge Jr. 1930: "The Tomato Juice Cocktail... Strain a can of Delford tomatoes, add salt and shake with two or three cubes of ice. Worcestershire, Tabasco or pepper may be added if desired."
These recipes are, of course, missing one crucial element for a Bloody Mary - booze. Dave Wondrich's phenomenal book Punch contains a rather nice analogy about drugs which he uses in relation to how Aqua-Vitae started life out in Europe. He describes the life that a drug goes through: "Investigation, when their powers are determined; Prescription, when theory is put into practice; Self-Medication, when their use becomes preventative; Recreation, when commerce shows medicine the door; Repression, when too much of a good thing proves too much; and Transcendence, when repression fails and society's institutions are rebuilt to accommodate the troublesome element, since people realise that it cannot be dispensed with."
I think a similar analogy can be made with the development of the tomato and oyster cocktail, in the sense that it can be seen as being in the process of moving from the self-medication phase in its guise as a health tonic into the recreational zone, with the addition of hard alcohol.
The healthy side of the Oyster Cocktail was documented by London's Hospital Gazette in 1892, which reveals that the Oyster cocktail was prescribed as a tonic for anyone "possessed with suicidal intentions". Oysters are, of course, also known as aphrodisiacs - a possible reason for this could be down to the fact the oysters are high in zinc, a mineral that's important for male sexual health, testosterone levels and sperm production. Zinc is also important for healthy hair and your sense of taste and smell. Tomatoes themselves are rich in vitamin C and iron. I once overheard Wayne Collins calling the Bloody Mary a "tomato punch", so it's not inconceivable that alcohol could have been added to what had previously been seen as a health tonic.
Regardless, the oyster cocktail provided an excellent platform for the Tomato Cocktail's own popularity, which may have been helped by Prohibition (from 1920 until 1933). Prohibition-era drinks used various smoothing agents - copious amounts of sugar, cream, eggs and fruit - to mask the flavour of the alcohol, which was obviously poorly produced. Could the tomato juice cocktail have acted as such a vehicle to mask poor flavoured alcohol?
I must confess to being a little skeptical about this. I made my own bathtub gin when I was at the Plymouth Distillery. It was totally awful and when I mixed it with tomato juice it in no way disguised the gin. Authors and bartenders hated the Bloody Mary when it was mixed with authentic spirits, never mind bootleg stuff. David Embury called it "strictly vile" while Jack Townsend and Tom McBride in The Bartender's Bookcall tomato juice and vodka "a savage combination".
What is undeniable is that vodka was definitely in America during the 1930s. Vladimir Smirnov had fled Russia in 1919 after the 1917 revolution. He opened a distillery in Constantinople, Istanbul in 1920, then moved the company to Lwow, Poland in 1923, and then in 1925 moved again to France and opened a distillery there, changing the name of the brand to Smirnoff. He didn't do tremendously well and turned to fellow Russian and revolution fugitive Rudolf Kunett as the Great Depression bit. Rudolf moved to America and Vladimir sold him the rights to produce and sell Smirnoff in the States in 1934, but he also failed to attract attention for vodka. In turn, Kunett contacted John Gilbert Martin, president of G.E Hueblein & Brothers, purveyors of liquor and fine foods, who agreed to buy the rights to Smirnoff for $14k , and he began to push vodka as "American White Whiskey" from 1938.
In 1935, for example, popular syndicated newspaper columnist O.O. McIntyre stated in his column, "all the smart bars here [in New York] are now serving vodka, and many of the accomplished drinkers are quaffing it in lieu of their favorite tipple." Dave Wondrich also points out that there were many Russian restaurants in New York at this time and they all served the stuff. I learned from Dave Wondrich that in 1934, the Soviet government spent a good deal of money exporting it to the US, with launch parties in New York and Washington.
I have always been a bit skeptical of George Jessel's claim to have created the Bloody Mary in 1927 in Palm Beach. His account in his autobiography struck me as too perfect, too convenient. But he was a known admirer of tomato juice. In fact on July 31st 1929, the Alton Evening Telegraph reported on the movements of the current Mrs. George Jessel. "Mrs George Jessel arrived in town with four Russian Wolfhounds. She left her husband in French Licks restaurant for the rest." The French Licks restaurant was part of the French Lick Springs Hotel resort - the very same place Louis Perrin was famed for serving tomato juice. And on October 15th 1934, the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern reported: "George Jessel, the clown gave De Roze a bad moment opening night by calling amid dislikes for Vodka and Pernod easily and amazingly supplied for a glass of tomato juice."[sic]
By way of an aside, a quick Google search for 'Bloody Mary' reveals that it's almost unimaginable to picture the modern-day cocktail without a celery stick garnish. It supposedly became prominent during the 1950s and 1960s and it's widely believed this took place in Byfield's Pump Room. It's believed one of his many celebrity guests may have asked the bartender to garnish his Bloody Mary with a celery stick, as the restaurant had run out of swizzle sticks. Whoever that celebrity guest may have been is lost to history and there is no real evidence to support this claim. Ernie himself passed away on February 10th 1950.
The first print reference to a Bloody Mary being garnished with a celery stick is in The Mountain Democrat publication of October 31st 1979: "Bloody Mary mix, stir with a celery stick." A tomato juice cocktail garnished with celery also rears its head in the June 30th, 1960 edition of Chicago's Daily Herald, "accompanied with mugs of tomato juice and celery stick."
However, if there was ever a place for a gimmick to catch on, it was without doubt the Pump Room. Byfield was responsible for few things in both of the post-war eras in America: after World War One it was the canned tomato juice cocktail, and after World War Two it was the trend of flambéing food "We serve almost everything flambéed in that room," Ernie stated. "It doesn't hurt the food that much." so who's to say Byfield's Pump Room wasn't responsible for the celery garnish? In the Pump Room anything seems possible.
I believe George Jessel, not Fernand Petiot, created the Bloody Mary. There - I've said it. But Jessel's creation was probably just the bog-standard formula of half tomato juice and half vodka, with maybe a dash of Pernod, as looks likely from the 1934 account.
When we look at the claim that the Bloody Mary was created during the early 1920s, Harry's New York Bar in Paris certainly had all the ingredients for sure: France and the tomato juice cocktail had a healthy relationship, and we know from the movements of Vladimir Smirnov that vodka was definitely in France. And of course, the country also had Pete Petiot - at least originally.
However, the reason I have difficulty believing the Bloody Mary was created in that bar in Paris, whatever name you call it, is due to the lack of documentation or any sort of evidence supporting this assertion. If it was created in the Parisian institution, then why was it omitted from Harry MacElhone's Barflies and Cocktails published in 1927? If this libation was being slung in his joint, surely he would have listed it, regardless of its popularity.
Similarly, why was it not featured in Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930? Harry Craddock would have been acutely aware of European trends and was arguably one of the world's foremost drinks plagiarists. And why also was it not served in Paris's other renowned drinking den, The Ritz Hotel's very own Hemingway Bar? The bar's former head bartender Frank Meier authored the hotel's bar book Artistry of Mixing Drinks in 1936. If there was a Bloody Mary in circulation during the 1920s and 30s, I feel confident that Meier would surely have been aware of it, particularly as the two bars shared a very similar clientele base. How come the famous American stars of the day did not circulate news of the drink? After, all, Harry's Bar counted Ernest Hemingway among its regulars.
The answer for all this is very simple: the Bloody Mary's birthplace wasn't Paris, France. Let me go back to Petiot's New Yorker interview on the 18th July 1964, which I regard as the 'smoking gun'. "I initiated the Bloody Mary of today... Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over... We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms."
Straight from the horse's mouth, this is Petiot's tacit acknowledgement that Jessel was the creator of the half-n-half Bloody Mary. If he had created the Bloody Mary in Harry's New York Bar in Paris he would have surely referenced this event in this interview, as it would have lent weight to his argument of being the creator of the world's pre-eminent lunch/brunch drink.
What Petiot did for Bloody Mary is give it a short back and sides: he gave the bland and boozy vodka and tomoto juice combination created by Jessel a much-needed makeover. He modified the proportions, added citrus and herbs, spices and savoury notes. He did what Dale DeGroff did for the Cosmopolitan: he took an existing recipe and made it his own. He shares another similarity with DeGroff: both had important theatres for their art and an equally affluent clientele. Dale had the Rainbow Room: Pete had the St. Regis.
The St. Regis was quite simply the most elegant and opulent hotel in Manhattan during the 1930s and 40s. It was a trendsetter: other hotels, restaurants and bars in New York would have danced to its beat. The 1952 Fort Pierce Tribune and 1956 The House & Garden Magazine articles cemented this idea as does a piece that the Press Telegraph, published in Long Beach, California, on the 27 December 1956: "The Bloody Mary ranks second in the hair of the dog category." That 1956 House and Garden Magazine piece is also very telling. "The Bloody Mary is the answer to all next day worries and since its creation it has become one of the two most favorite lunch time cocktails in New York." This was Petiot's doing and to an extent Vincent Astor's: Astor gave Petiot the stage and Petiot delivered a classic performance.
The only really confusing aspect of the Bloody Mary's development at the St. Regis Hotel is when and why Petiot/Astor changed the name of the beverage to the Red Snapper. Did it change its base spirit, as is believed, from vodka to gin? The conventional belief is that Petiot brought the drink to the St. Regis but was forced to swap out the vodka which was apparently hard to come by in the US. Simultaneously, the Astor family deemed the Bloody Mary too risqué for the bourgeois clientele that frequented their joint. So the Red Snapper made with gin was born.
But we know vodka was widely popular in New York at the time. Crosby Gaige lists the first Red Snapper in his 1941 book Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion. It's important to note that the recipe, accredited to Gaston Lauryssen of the St. Regis Hotel, contained vodka and not gin. And Jessel's half-n-half's were made with vodka and not gin, which we know from his attempts at improving the tomato juice cocktail with vodka and Pernod right through to the 1939 references.
So what of the Red Snapper? How did that come about? Was it simply a name change or a totally different drink? The first time I've been able to track down a gin Red Snapper in literature dates from 1962, in The London Magazine, Volume 2. It stated: "The Red Snapper - Bloody Mary made with Gin." It was also in the 1960s that the Bloody Mary's Mexican sidekick, the Bloody Maria, first appeared. In July 1961 The Pasadena Independentsays, interestingly enough, that the Bloody Maria is made with "rum instead of vodka". This was quickly rectified in later years with tequila: The Press Courier ran an article about the Bloody Maria on January 14 1972, which called for "6oz can of snap e tom tomato cocktail to 1 ¼oz Cuervo Tequila in a tall glass filled with ice".
I think the broad message that emerged in the 1960s is that if you've run of out vodka for your Bloody Mary but you still have Bloody Mary mix (which also emerged in its own right in the '60s in the shape of Herb and June Taylor's Mr & Mrs T Bloody Mary), why not throw in some Scotch, rum or whatever the heck else you have lying about? I think this is how the gin-based Red Snapper was really born. However, I'm convinced the St. Regis Red Snapper never contained gin and was more of a name change - rather than a recipe change.
Miller and Brown have uncovered something interesting in this respect, which suggests that the popularity of a hot sauce called Red Snapper may have inspired Astor or Petiot to change the name of their cocktail. "Oyster cocktails were enormously popular in turn of the century America," they write. "They were so popular that businesses on the east, west, and south coasts (New Orleans to be precise), began producing a concentrate of clam nectar, tomato juice, and spices. Advertisements chimed: 'It's red and it's hot, and it adds the right touch to meats, soups and fish...And the name of this hot sauce? Red Snapper Sauce'." Personally, I can't see Astor or Petiot taking inspiration from this sauce - not least because the Oyster Cocktail would have been out of fashion for 20 or so years by the time the Red Snapper started taking its first baby steps.
Greg Bohm sent me an article from 1950 that suggests Red Snapper is merely the American name for the 'British' Bloody Mary. The Lowell Sun of Wednesday July 26 1950 stated: "The Red Snapper, a British importation, called the Bloody Mary in London, is one part vodka, two parts tomato juice, a dash of bitters, and a double dollop of Worcestershire sauce. You may add if your hands can be steady enough, an ounce of lime juice and a good rain of pepper over all."
I'm not sure this adds anything and that it might just be plain confusing. Unless, that is, Pete Petiot did indeed bartend in The American Bar at the Savoy and create his Bloody Mary there, before travelling to America when Mary Biddle offered him the job of head bartender at the St. Regis, at which point Vincent Astor lobbied for the name change. Although a wonderful story there simply isn't one shred of evidence to uphold this chain of events and we know from the 1930 US Federal Population Census that Petiot was married and settled in Canton, Ohio so it further damages that concept. And it still doesn't offer of us any insight into why they called it the Red Snapper.
I think there's good reason to believe the Red Snapper is named after the Red Snapper fish. I've done a bit of digging about Vincent Astor's hobbies and discovered that Time magazine ran an article called "National Affairs; Fisherman & Wife" on 20 February 1933. It reads: "All that the country heard last week from its President-elect, fishing in the Bahamas, was brief, light-hearted radiograms flashed from Vincent Astor's Nourmahal to Miami. Sample: "We are anchored off Andros Island and have good fishing. [New York's Justice Frederic] Kernochan fought a 15-round draw with a shark. Both escaped. All well. Having wonderful trip." A Secret Service man was recovering from sunburn. Mr. Roosevelt had lost a "fish as big as a whale." Commodore Astor was the "perfect host."
The key thing about this story is that Astor was a keen fisherman who frequently fished from his Nourmahal yacht, which was on this occasion off the coast of Andros Island in the Bahamas, where the red snapper lives in abundance. To my mind, there's no doubt that it was Vincent Astor who changed the name of the Bloody Mary and I think that it was his hobby that resulted in the name coming. The Bloody Mary was, and is, undeniably red and snappy.
When I started my Bloody Mary quest, I didn't expect to find so much contradictory and confusing evidence but I feel I've finally got some clarity and transparency regarding the life and times of this classic cocktail. Here's what I think in a nutshell:
The Bloody Mary started out in life as the Oyster Cocktail, which stood aside for the Tomato Juice Cocktail, helped by the likes of Louis Perrin serving tomato juice in his French Licks Restaurant when he ran out of orange juice in 1917. It was here that George Jessel's fondness for tomato juice could have been incepted.
Ernie Byfield then got in on the game and started producing a commercially available bottled tomato juice cocktail and it was here that the American and indeed European palate started to appreciate the taste of spiced tomato juice. I'm comfortable with the theory that the famed celery garnish was added at Byfield's Chicago institution, the Pump Room.
I'm confident with my belief that neither Sloans New York Bar or MacElhone's Harry's New York bar was the place that the Bloody Mary was conceived and it played no role in Mary's formative years.
The baton then passed to George Jessel and he started spiking his tomato juice with vodka and, by all accounts, Pernod since 1934. Two further accounts of his Bloody Mary surfaced again in 1939 one of which was from Walter Winchell who was in the Imperial Trio with Petiot in the early stages of their respective careers. I believe it was Jessel who created the simplistic Bloody Mary and indeed baptized her after Mary Warburton but it was really left to Pete Petiot to do the modifications that ensured the Bloody Mary became what it is today.
It was Petiot that tweaked the recipe and it was at the St. Regis that the vodka and tomato juice mixture became an American - indeed a global - sensation. During the mid- to late-1930s Astor insisted upon the name change, perhaps based on his love of fishing, however the base spirit didn't change.
It was when Mr and Mrs T launched their famed Bloody Mary Mix that I believe the Red Snapper became known as the gin-spiked Mary, and possibly the other variations started rearing their own respective heads on the back of its success.
The life of the Bloody Mary is fascinating. Every time I drink one it will certainly not feel like a first date: I know about her intriguing life, the people which shaped her and the people who made her who she is today. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the Bloody Mary is the fact the she keeps reinventing herself. The Bloody Mary is the Madonna of the cocktail world.