The History of the Bloody Mary
There are many tales of how this reviving cocktail evolved, so we thought we’d put a few in here to amuse you.
The first comes from Esquire magazine dated 21 February and written by John Mariani:-
When you think of the few “classic” cocktails that bartenders even know how to make anymore, none has a more storied past than the Bloody Mary, this year celebrating its 80th birthday. In fact, if it weren’t for the 18th Amendment and the Russian Revolution there would be no Bloody Mary.
While its original name and recipe may be disputed, its birthplace is not—except by one man, Colin Field of the Hemingway Bar at The Ritz Hotel in Paris, who happens to be the world’s best bartender but who refuses to believe the Bloody Mary originated around the corner at Harry’s New York Bar at 5 Rue Danou.
Harry’s (which is in no way associated with Harry’s Bar in Venice) opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1911 by Harry MacElhone after an American jockey had a New York bar dismantled and shipped to Paris. This novelty of a New York-style bar became such a welcoming destination for liquor-starved Americans during Prohibition that they learned to tell the Parisian taxi drivers “Sank Roo Doe Noo!”—which for a long time now has been painted on the bar’s window.
Around 1920, émigrés escaping the Russian Revolution began arriving in Paris, bringing with them vodka and caviar, so Harry’s bartender, Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot, began experimenting with the new spirit, which he found tasteless. At the same time Petiot was introduced to American canned tomato juice, which back in the dry days of Prohibition was called a “tomato juice cocktail” on menus.
Courtesy of King Cole Bar
Over a year’s time, Petiot made vodka drink after vodka drink until he mixed it with the tomato juice and some seasonings, and, voilà!, a new cocktail was born, called the Bucket of Blood, christened by visiting American entertainer Roy Barton after a West Side Chicago nightclub of the same name.
The drink was popularized by Americans, so in 1933, Vincent Astor brought over Petiot to man the King Cole Bar at the St. Régis Hotel in New York, famous for its 30-foot nursery rhyme mural by Maxfield Parrish. The drink caught on—particularly as a supposed cure for hangovers—but under the less sanguine name “Red Snapper,” which is what it’s still called at the just-restored King Cole Bar. (Originally, a pint of black peppercorns was steeped in vodka for six weeks to create a mixture called “liquid black pepper,” a dash of which gave the vodka itself a real blast of flavor.)
Here is the current official recipe from the King Cole Bar, which sells about 850 Red Snappers each month:
The Red Snapper Original Recipe:
- 1 oz. Stolichnaya vodka
- 2 oz. Tomato juice
- 1 dash lemon juice
- 2 dashes salt
- 2 dashes black pepper
- 2 dashes cayenne pepper
- 3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Garnish with a lemon wedge and celery stalk.
Just when other bars around town began calling it the “Bloody Mary,” with reference to Mary Tudor, Mary I of England and Ireland, known for her bloody reign against Protestants, is vague, but in a 1939 ad campaign for American-made Smirnoff vodka, first made in 1934 by Russian émigré Rudolph Kunnetchansky, entertainer George Jessel claimed to have named the drink after a friend, Mary Geraghty. Recipes under the name Bloody Mary date in print at least to 1946. Butch McGuire’s Bar in Chicago claims to have added the celery stick as a flavorful stirrer.
Ernest Hemingway, who likely knocked back a few Red Snappers on his visits to Harry’s New York Bar in the 1920s, wrote in a 1947 letter that he had introduced the Bloody Mary to Hong Kong in 1941, an act he said “did more than any other single factor except the Japanese Army to precipitate the Fall of that Crown Colony.” (Hemingway also claimed to have “liberated” The Ritz in August 1944, actually arriving a few hours late.) Papa had very specific instructions on how to make a Bloody:
“To make a pitcher of Blood Marys (any smaller 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 table spoon 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. Stirr. 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.”
One way or the other a Bloody Mary possesses plenty of authority, so to celebrate the octogenarian cocktail’s birthday, I went to the King Cole Bar last night, ordered a Red Snapper and drank it with excellent grilled prawns with a smoked aïoli and a chopped salad with arugula, chickpeas, cheese and avocado. I drank a toast to Pete Petiot, to my wife’s Russian family, who emigrated to Paris in the 1920s, to Vincent Astor (whose face is that of King Cole in the mural), and to the end of Prohibition, December 5, 1933, eight long decades ago.
And when you go to the King Cole Bar, discreetly ask the bartender Mike Reagan about the secret every regular knows about what’s going on in the painting.