Why the Bloody Mary?


As with most things in life, when it comes to drinking, it's best to plan ahead. And no morning quite like the one that hammers in the New Year calls out as achingly for a Bloody Mary.

An arranged marriage between vodka and tomato juice, infinitely customizable with an assortment of stalk-like accoutrements, the Bloody Mary is thought to have been created after World War I, the handiwork of an American bartender in Paris who creatively availed himself of some of the first imported tins of tomato juice from the States. As master barman and historian Dale DeGroff tells it, the original recipe was booze-less. It took a colleague over at Harry's American Bar, Ferdinand "Pete" Petiot, to add vodka and come up with the name.

"The name, according to Duncan McElhone, son of Andy McElhone, the original storyteller and owner of Harry's, came into being because of the continued appearance at the bar of a woman named Mary, who was regularly left waiting for her man, nursing one of Pete's tomato cocktails," DeGroff explained. "A comparison was made between Mary Queen of Scots and young Mary's long, solitary hours at the bar."


Petiot left Paris in 1936 to man the King Cole Bar in New York. Since vodka hadn't yet made its way to the States, he improvised a new version of the Bloody Mary with gin and called it a Red Snapper. It wasn't until the 1960s, when Smirnoff Vodka hit America, that the Bloody Mary embedded itself into our national culinary lexicon.

"Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. is Bloody Mary central around here," says Healdsburg Bar & Grill general manager Kelly Sullivan. "We occasionally get someone wanting one at 5 p.m. in the afternoon, but they usually look like they've just gotten up."

With its epic reputation as a hangover remedy, the question to Sullivan is, why is a Bloody Mary so abidingly good after a big night out?

"You can't really taste the booze in it," she says. "The tomato juice gives it some nice acid, it's spicy. If they've had too much to drink, the next morning people always want a greasy fry-up. The Bloody Mary has that. It's rich but not really rich."

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