Classic cocktail: Bloody Mary

Russ McFadden dives into the world of the Bloody Mary in an attempt to clear up the confusion about just where it came from, and what is actually supposed to be in one.


Three words that anyone with the fortune, or inherent misfortune, to work with me during my time behind the stick will have heard repeatedly from my talky round hole. Generally the words would follow the finding of a misplaced bottle in the rail, a half-assed garnish or a blatant disregard for house specs. Consistency is, in no small part, what defines someone who mixes drinks, as a bartender. I constantly refer to the kitchen and how regimented your average brigade is, sometimes way beyond that of a crack bar team.

My point? Even outside the confines of your own bar and into a world of house-twists, a martini should taste like a martini, a daiquiri a daiquiri, right? Regardless of where you drink there are some drinks that should remain pretty much the same base mix of gin and vermouth or rum, sugar and lime. That’s why they are ‘classics’. So, to clear up this seemingly fuzzy point I am stabbing at: I dare you to try to order a Bloody Mary in five bars and get two drinks that share exactly the same ingredients. Does this enrage my inner anal-retentive? Absolutely not.


The Bloody Mary seems to have taken on a life of it’s own and every single bartender, boozehound, blogger or weekend boozer seems to have their own secret recipe, spice blend or super extravagant garnish to make it their own. From the humble beginnings of spirit and tomato juice, this savoury delicious eye-opener has seen everything from bacon, shellfish and beef, to the  Sydney Eastern-Suburban kale and/or cucumber.

Frankly this is the one drink that I challenge you to experiment with, outdo each other and generally go wild. Even if only for the reason that it will give me an excuse to come drinking in your  venue at 11am.


Aside from being a drink with so many individual twists and takes, it’s also a drink that I personally found pretty tough to pin down historically. A reasonably long time ago I made top 10 UK Bartender of the Year and found myself in London alongside some serious peers. I spent weeks prior to the comp reading up on my classics but never came as unstuck on any drink as I did the Bloody Mary. It seemed that the more I found out about the drink the less I seemed to know. Every story had a counter tale, dates didn’t match, availability of ingredients didn’t always tally up and cited stories had nothing in print to back them up.

The most common story and the one that I had accepted as gospel for a long time, states that the drink was created at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris in 1921 by one Ferdinand Petiot. A mix of vodka, tomato, lemon, pepper and Worcestershire sauce gently rolled or simply stirred to avoid losing the viscosity of the tomato juice. Folklore tells us that Petiot moved to Manhattan around 1934 and made the drink for guests at the St Regis hotel. With vodka still very much a European spirit he substituted more freely available gin and changed the name to the Red Snapper to appease his slightly prudish manager.

This story is unfortunately not backed up by much, if any, evidence. The Bloody Mary did not appear on the menu at Harry’s or in his ABC of Mixing Cocktails until a much later date. Not to mention that in 1921 Harry’s was actually named simply The New York Bar and was owned and operated by former jockey Ted Sloane.

Shortly after I learned the Petiot story, I came across a chap called George Jessel. Jessel was an American actor who had reportedly first mixed up a concoction of one part vodka and one part tomato juice. His autobiography reports that in 1927, after a softball win, he and team mates partied until 8am. Suddenly realising a need to sober up for a 9.30am volleyball date he reached for a tomato juice to cleanse his hangover. To spike it up one of the party reached for a bottle of a strange new spirit called vodkee (vodka only really took foothold in the US in the late 40s). Jessel reports grabbing lemon and Worcestershire sauce to help mask the “rotten potato smell”.


Jessel went on to explain: “Mary Brown Warburton walked in. She had obviously been out all night because she was still dressed in a beautiful white evening dress. ‘Here, Mary, take a taste of this and see what you think  of it.’ Just as she did, she spilled some down the front of her white evening gown, took one look at the mess, and laughed, ‘Now, you can call me Bloody Mary’”.

In 1964 Petiot revealed in a new paper interview that he did not create the drink but claims he improved Jessel’s drink which was “nothing but vodka and tomato juice”.

Who created it? Who named it? Vodka or gin? All questions that could take up this whole publication before we even take a look at how best to mix one. Whole books have been written and the debate will continue. I don’t aim to answer those questions right here but merely provide you with some of the things I have found and encourage you to delve deeper, ideally while contemplating the mistakes of last night over a pint of spicy red goodness.


Needless to say, if you’re in Paris check out ‘sank roo doe noo’ (the phonetic pronunciation of Harry’s New York Bar’s address in Paris, which you’ll find at 5 rue Daunou) for that little bit of history. Otherwise you can’t fail to try these bad boys.


Melbourne based Evan Stanley doesn’t buy into the over zealous garnish craze raging the globe of late and this mix of smoked tomatoes, charred capsicum and blended celery is best consumed leisurely in the suburban turfed back yard of Le Bon Ton. “At the end of the day it’s a drink” he says. “Don’t be messing about with a forest on top”.


Sadly, unless you’re hungover enough to be rolling out of bed sometime around dinner, this one will have to wait ‘til this late night drinking den opens at 6pm. Worth it to try Australia’s Best Bloody Mary 2014 however.


Next time you’re in NYC, check out these guys in the West Village. Green tomatillo and cucumber with their house spice. It’s green so it’s got to be good for you right? Maybe not but it’s delicious anyway.


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