A tequila Bloody Mary, or Bloody Maria, from Iron Chef Rick Bayless. The recipe is in our Best Bloody Mary Recipes
article. Photo courtesy of Frontera Foods.
KAREN HOCHMAN likes her Bloody Mary with extra horseradish and Worcestershire sauce; lime instead of lemon. She also enjoys a Virgin Mary and an Macho Mary, a.k.a. vodka neat.
Last Updated January 2020
The Bloody Mary
The History Of One Of The World’s Most Popular Cocktails
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It seems only right that the Bloody Mary, a cocktail favorite that just happens to be dressed for the season in holiday red with a green garnish, should be featured front and center at parties.
Not only is she appropriately garbed, her versatility pleases revelers: There are dozens of recipe variations so she never gets dull; and non-drinkers love her too. (The Virgin Mary is so tasty, it’s even popular even with those who like the regular drink.)
Bloody Mary is low-cal compared to sweet cocktails: The tomato juice has Vitamin C, and the celery stalk has good crunch that may help deflect the desire to grab pretzels and chips.
And it has fiber to boot! How many “wins” is that? No wonder Mary is such a popular gal, when so many of her original set have been left in the dust.
Bloody Mary also has her own holiday: January 1st is National Bloody Mary Day.
The way the story is often told, Mary was the brainchild of Fernand “Pete” Petiot, an American bartender working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris during the Roaring 20s. Bartenders regularly mix up all kinds of concoctions to keep their clientele interested: even the ones that enjoy popularity for a while drift into obscurity (whatever happened to the Side Car and the Sloe Gin Fizz?).
So, the story goes, it was pure luck, not strategic planning, when Petiot combined tomato juice and vodka. A colleague named it, and not after the character in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific.” In this version of the tale, the drink preceded the show by some 25 years (it opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949). And the musical and its Tonkinese character, Bloody Mary, emerged from the James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Tales Of The South Pacific, which was published in 1947.
Nor was the Bloody Mary named after Mary, Queen of Scots, the legend states. According to research by McIlhenny Company, makers of Tabasco brand pepper sauce, an essential Bloody Mary ingredient, Petiot said that “one of the boys suggested we call the drink ‘Bloody Mary’ because it reminded him of the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago, and a girl there named Mary.”
A vintage bottle of Tabasco. Photo courtesy of McIlhenny company.
In 1934 Petiot took a job at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City (ultimately becoming head barman). It was there in the 1940s that he introduced the Bloody Mary. The hotel tried to change the name to the Red Snapper, but it didn’t have the same snap. While they like the name, New Yorkers found the cocktail a bit bland, and encouraged Petiot to add some seasoning. He chose black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon, and, for patrons who liked it spicy, Tabasco sauce, largely formulating the Bloody Mary we know and love. When the drink became a national sensation in the 1950s, Petiot claimed he had invented it while working at Harry’s New York Bar in the 1920s.
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