Long regarded as a hangover cure, the Bloody Mary is a well-known cocktail with an interesting history and a firm place in culture. The name itself is rather grim, thought to reference Queen Mary I of England and Ireland, who had hundreds of Protestants executed during her reign.
But the macabre link hasn’t diminished the drink’s popularity with morning-after sufferers or anytime enthusiasts (Ernest Hemingway among them). And, as with many libations, the true inventor is disputed and the circumstances surrounding the original recipe are a little murky.
According to Brian Bartels, bartender and author of the book The Bloody Mary, many theories point to the efforts of Fernand “Pete” Petiot in the 1920s. While at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, he began experimenting with a cocktail of tomato juice and Russian vodka. The drink, often served to American tourists and expatriates, was subsequently dubbed a “Bucket of Blood.”
Fast forward to 1934, when Petiot began working at the King Cole Bar in New York City’s St. Regis Hotel. There he refined the drink by incorporating seasonings, spices and citrus juice, and served it as “The Red Snapper.” It seems Petiot had initially suggested “Bloody Mary,” but this was overruled, as the hotel’s owner was married to a woman named Mary.
There is a competing tale from roughly the same era. Comedian George Jessel claimed to have invented the Bloody Mary as we know it after a Palm Beach bender in 1927. Jessel made reference to the incident in a 1939 column in the New York Herald Tribune, and later repeated his assertion in a 1956 Smirnoff Vodka ad.
Petiot challenged this claim. Jessel no doubt helped elevate the drink’s popularity, however, and the Bloody Mary has since remained a favorite. It is a go-to brunch accompaniment, endlessly versatile. Most every restaurant or bar has a special, housemade variation on the menu.
Indeed, the one-upmanship apparently knows no boundaries, with over-the-top garnishes like stuffed jalapenos, grilled shrimp, crab legs or even cheeseburger sliders on offer these days. But no matter how you order it – classic or crazy – the Bloody Mary is a good call.
Photos and videos styled by Rachel Rivers