Google “Bloody Mary” and you’ll get results for either the iconic brunch cocktail or the bloodthirsty English queen. Heck, some will give you both, as the drink is most likely named for the monarch.
The first precursor to the Bloody Mary to enter the drinking scene was the Oyster Cocktail. Made from lemon juice, Tabasco, oysters, and tomato juice, this warm virgin drink gained popularity around 1892.
In the 1920s, canned tomato juice started gaining popularity within the United States, and Americans who’d picked up the taste brought it with them to Paris, where it remained popular amongst ex-pats. At the same time, Russian refugees fleeing the Russian Revolution began arriving with vodka and caviar.
At Harry’s Bar in Paris, someone gave bartender Fernand “Pete” Petoit vodka around this time. He began experimenting with the neutral spirit, but found the resulting tipples lacking. That is, until he received some canned tomato juice and mixed the two together.
Some, including Petoit, give credit for the half vodka, half tomato juice drink to actor and comedian George Jessel. In 1927, he supposedly ordered a Bloody Mary as a hangover cure after a rough night.
Once the drink was tweaked, Petoit called it the Bucket of Blood after a westside Chicago nightclub. American ex-pats and tourists loved it, and it gained traction. After Prohibition ended, Petoit was poached by the King Cole bar in Manhattan.
At the King Cole, the tomato-based concoction was renamed the Red Snapper to appeal to Americans’ more delicate sensibilities. The drink's popularity in the States spread from there.
By 1946, the familiar brunch cocktail started appearing in print under the name Bloody Mary. The bar or bartender responsible for that name isn't entirely clear, but Mr. & Mrs. T’s Bloody Mary mix—which was released in the 1960s—cemented the drink's name and its basic template: vodka, tomato juice, spice, savory elements, something with spicy heat, and an aromatic garnish. The now-ubiquitous celery stick garnish was apparently ordered by a customer as a means to stir his or her drink, and it caught on.
From there, the drink has been adapted, adopted, and customized almost everywhere it appears on a menu. Most recipes have little in common other than the tomato juice and vodka. Sometimes, even the vodka gets switched out to create a new twist like a Scotch-based Braveheart Bloody Mary.
Nowadays, it seems that one of the biggest goals in building a Bloody Mary is to create an extremely intricate garnish. Cheeseburger sliders, blue cheese-stuffed olives, shrimp—all have appeared on top of the cocktail.
Hit The Lab
Modified from the King Cole Bar recipe.
1 oz Stolichnaya vodka
2 oz tomato juice
1 dash lemon juice
2 dashes salt
2 dashes pepper
2 dashes cayenne pepper
3 dashes Worchestershire sauce
Pour all ingredients into a pint glass full of ice. Garnish with a stick of celery.
Modified from recipe used at Tales of the Cocktail event.
1 oz Reyka vodka
2 oz yellow tomato juice
4 basil leaves
1 dill sprig
1 dash chili sauce
Juice of half a lemon
Olive, red cherry tomato, and feta cube on cocktail stick for garnish
Run the unjuiced half of the lemon around the rim of a highball glass. Dip the rim in lava salt (or regular kosher salt) and fill the glass with ice. Combine all ingredients in the glass. Stir until chilled, and garnish.