Perhaps the father was a flamboyant actor, or a Parisian immigrant with roots in New York and Harry's Bar, Paris; we don't know exactly. The mother, however, was apparently called Mary. In the case of Bloody Mary, success has many fathers – or those who claim to be. But people who dismiss this successful cocktail merely on the basis of its qualities as a pick-me-up do the drink an injustice and do themselves no good either, since hungover tongues and palates can only scratch the surface of the taste experience.
The beginnings were likely very humble, a simple blend of vodka and tomato juice. At least that's what one of two self-proclaimed inventors of the cocktail, the actor George Jessel, claimed. Jessel may have had bad luck professionally – he turned down an offer from Warner Brothers to make a film of the successful 1925 Broadway hit, The Jazz Singer, in which he had starred – but from the Roaring Twenties to the 1980s he was a star of the US party scene.
In his autobiography The World I Lived In, Jessel dated the moment of Bloody Mary's birth to a morning in Palm Beach in 1927, and almost exactly to 8 o'clock. The party of the previous evening was still in full swing, but the alcohol supply was somewhat exhausted – and in addition, the group had decided to play a volleyball match at 9.30am. Reason enough for a pick-me-up. They reached for the last untouched bottle, an unknown spirit that had been presented to Jessel as 'Vodkee'.
The actor found it "quite pungent", with a "rotten potato smell". The unpleasant odour was "killed" with tomato juice, according to the motto: "We've tried everything else, boys; we might as well try this." Just then, department store heiress, Mary Brown Warburton, wandered in still wearing her white evening gown. Having handed her a glass she promptly spilled the red drink down her dress, whereupon she exclaimed: "Now you can call me Bloody Mary, George! Giordano Bruno's old adage applies, "If it is not true, it is well invented."
That people in the US during the late 1920s had little use for vodka and therefore wanted to "kill" it with tomato juice is credible: years of Prohibition with its illegal stills and moonshine left behind a scepticism towards clear spirits. Indeed, another theory has it that the cocktail was named after the Prohibition years, more precisely after a waitress named Mary from the infamous Bucket of Blood tavern in Chicago – and not after Mary Tudor, who as Queen of England had acquired the title of Bloody Mary due to her murderous persecution of hundreds of Protestants.
The Trail that Leads to Paris
Father number two, Fernand Petiot, accedes that Jessel's story was well invented. The bartender of the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan stated in an interview with The New Yorker in 1964, "I created the Bloody Mary of today. Even though he conceded Jessel's role as obstetrician in the process. "Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka with tomato juice when I took it over."
In other interviews, however, Petiot was less sure whether he had taken over the cocktail or possibly invented it himself back in his native Paris in the 1920s. There he was a bartending apprentice in the now legendary Harry's Bar on Rue Daunou, its famous clientele included Ernest Hemingway.
Of course, then as now, you only get a Bloody Mary in the King Cole Bar, Manhattan if you order a Red Snapper – allegedly because the hotel owner at the time, Vincent Astor, wanted to protect his guests from "vulgar associations". In most other bars in the world, you would get a gin-mixed version of the cocktail under the name Red Snapper. As is generally the case: varying the Bloody Mary as you see fit is not heresy, but a virtue.
On the US East Coast, for example, the preparation with one or more shots of clam juice (mussel stock) is popular and worth a try – commonly known as a Bloody Caesar. The use of V8 juice or comparable creamy vegetable juices instead of pure tomato juice as in Uncle Bob's Bloody Mary also gives a delightful twist to the classic. The variations are endless and are constantly being enriched with further ideas, even if the original recipe based on tomato juice and vodka remains the most common mixture with good reason.
"We've tried everything else, boys; we might as well try this." George Jessel, 'The World I Lived In'
Response to all Concerns
Even if Petiot did not invent the Bloody Mary, he certainly made it popular during his 30 years behind the bar at the St. Regis in New York. By the late 1930s there were repeated reports, especially in the society columns of major US newspapers, that Hollywood stars and other celebrities swore by this new creation. A few years later, the drink migrated from luxury city bars to middle society where it quickly became a common commodity, so much so, that by 1956 the conservative House & Garden magazine praised the Bloody Mary as, "the answer to all the worries of the next day".
Best Bloody Mary Recipe
The official recipe of the International Bartenders Association: Falstaff presents the original!
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