The Mystery of the Bloody Mary

maurice amon bloody maryVodka fans know the Bloody Mary as a refreshing, tomatoey mixed drink, ideal for daytime drinking during hot summer months, but few are aware of the classic cocktail’s controversial origins. Most notably, Paris based bartender Fernand Petiot claimed to have invented the Bloody Mary in 1921 whilst working at the New York Bar (later called Harry’s New York Bar), a regular destination of Ernest Hemingway. Fernand Petiot is a widely reputed bartender, credited for inventing the White Lady, Harry’s Pick Me Up, the Sidecar, the Blue Lagoon, and others. However, 21 Club in New York, New York is also strongly associated with the invention of the Bloody Mary. Many credit 21 Club bartender Henry Zbikiewicz for inventing the cocktail in the 1930’s. Others yet believe comedian George Jessel, a frequent patron of 21 Club, to have invented the drink. A 1939 issue of This New York provides one of the earliest mentions of the Bloody Mary in U.S. print: “George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka.”

In 1964, Fernand Petiot updated his conjecture: “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms.”

But Who Really Cares?

Bloody Marys are a bar favorite, and for good reason! Regardless of who invented it, it’s a great drink. Few drinks differ so widely from bar to bar, but the basic gist of the cocktail is as follows: equal parts tomato juice and vodka, salt, olive brine, cracked pepper, lemon juice, brown sugar, horseradish, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Tomto juice and vodka are the defining ingredients of the Bloody Mary, as selection of subsidiary ingredients is for the most part optional and added in whatever amount suits the preference of the drinker.