While we know the past and origins of a few classic cocktails, others have debatable or unknown origins. There isn’t a cocktail that has a more storied past than the Bloody Mary.
Its original name and recipe are largely disputed, and Colin Field of the Hemingway Bar at The Ritz Hotel in Paris, who has been hailed with the title of the world’s best bartender, refuses to believe that the classic cocktail originated around the corner at Harry’s New York Bar at 5 Rue Danou. Harry’s was opened by Harry MacElhone on Thanksgiving Day in 1911 after a New York bar was dismantled and shipped to Paris by an American jockey. This New York-style bar became a welcoming destination for liquor-starved Americans during Prohibition. In fact, it was such a huge success that Americans even learned to tell Parisian taxi drivers the address, “Sank Roo Doe Noo!”, which has been painted on the bar’s window for a long time now.
Around 1920, émigrés escaping the Russian Revolution began arriving in Paris and brought in vodka and caviar with them. The bartender at Harry’s, Ferdinand ‘Pete’ Petiot, started experimenting with this new ‘tasteless’ spirit, and was introduced to American canned tomato juice around the same time. The canned juice was called ‘tomato juice cocktail’ on menus back in the dry days of Prohibition.
Petiot experimented with vodka for about a year until he mixed vodka with the canned tomato juice and added some seasonings, and, voila! The new cocktail, the Bucket of Blood, was produced, named by American entertainer Roy Barton after the Bucket of Blood Club in West Side Chicago.
And so began the journey of this cocktail from being conventional to becoming a classic. It was popularized by Americans, and in 1933, Petiot was brought to man the King Cole Bar at the St. Régis Hotel in New York by Vincent Astor. However, sophisticated New Yorkers weren’t too impressed. They claimed that the drink tasted somewhat bland, and asked Petiot to “spice it up”. In all his brilliance, the bartender added black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon, and for those who wanted some extra spice – a generous splash of Tabasco pepper sauce. And the octogenarian American classic was born!
The drink rose high in popularity, particularly as a supposed cure for hangovers, but under a less sanguine name (‘Red Snapper’), which is what it is still called today at the recently restored King Cole Bar.
The official recipe from the King Cole Bar that sells about 850 Red Snappers is:
2 oz. Tomato juice
1 oz. Stolichnaya vodka
1 dash lemon juice
2 dashes black pepper
2 dashes salt
3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes cayenne pepper
Garnish the cocktail with celery stalk and a lemon wedge.
In 1976, the McIlhenny Company introduced the Tabasco Bloody Mary Mix. This wasn’t the first mix on the shelves but was one of the few true to Petiot’s original recipe.
But, how exactly does Mary figure into this cocktail?
History buffs will know that Mary Tudor, or Mary I of England, born in 1516 was the daughter of Henry VIII, and went on to become the Queen of England. She earned the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’ for the hundreds of Protestants she murdered in the name of Catholicism. And it is believed that the drink gets its name after her.
However in a 1939 ad campaign for American-made Smirnoff vodka, first made by Russian émigré Rudolph Kunnetchansky in 1934, entertainer George Jessel claimed that he named the drink after a friend, Mary Geraghty. While recipes under ‘Bloody Mary’ date to at least 1946, Blutch McGuire’s Bar in Chicago claims to have innovated by adding celery as a flavorful stirrer.
Ernest Hemingway, who likely had a few Red Snappers on his frequent visits to Harry’s New York Bar, wrote that he had introduced the drink to Hong Kong in 1941. He said that it was this act that did more than any other single factor other than the Japanese Army to precipitate the Fall of the ‘Crown Colony’. He had very specific instructions to make the drink:
“To make a pitcher of Blood Marys (any similar amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. (This to prevent too rapid melting and watering of our product.) Mix a pint of good Russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice. Add a tablespoon full of Worchester Sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but can use AI or any good beef-steak sauce. Stir. (with two rs) Then add a jigger of fresh-squeezed lime juice. Stir. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.”
The Bloody Mary surely does possess a lot of authority. Be sure to visit the King Cole Bar for a Red Snapper, which you can pair with some grilled prawns with a smoked aïoli and a salad with arugula, cheese, avocado and chickpeas.