By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
Nothing about the Bloody Mary is certain: Who invented the popular Sunday brunch drink. When. Where. How to make one. What garnish to use.
Well, perhaps there is one thing for sure: Bloody Marys don't cure hangovers. Nothing but time — or drinking less to begin with — cures hangovers.
"People who drink too much think the 'hair of the dog' works because that's what people who drink too much do: They drink some more," said master mixologist Dale DeGroff, resident drinks consultant at the Halekulani hotel, who is preparing to revive his signature Bloody Mary Bar at the hotel on June 24.
(His hangover prescription, by the way: Drink in moderation. Have a glass of water equal in size to every drink you consume, and eat while you're drinking; both of these slow down your alcohol consumption. Take an aspirin and another big glass of water before you go to bed. "But if you really overindulge, you're going to have a hangover, and there's nothing you can do about it," he said, cheerfully.)
As to the origins of the Bloody Mary, DeGroff subscribes to the classic story, which attributes the drink to a famous bartender named Fernand or Ferdinand "Pete" Petiot, who claimed he came up with the idea of mixing tomato juice half-and-half with vodka at the famed Harry's New York Bar in Paris in the 1920s. DeGroff got the story from the grandson of the original Harry's bartender, Harry MacElhone, who said the inspiration for the drink was a rather sad woman who fell for a guy at the bar and kept coming around looking for him, sitting alone, nursing a drink and watching the door hopefully. Petiot invented the drink in an attempt to cheer her, so the story goes.
One assumes the lonely lady's name was Mary, though this isn't clear. Some versions of the tale say the name came from a foreign correspondent — Harry's was a big hangout for the expatriate press — who saw Pete making one and said it reminded him of the Bucket of Blood bar in Chicago.
DeGroff said vodka was the rage in Paris in the 1920s because of the hard-partying Russian royalty who had emigrated to the City of Light after the Bolshevik Revolution. The drink also took advantage of the invention of canned tomato juice, which took place in the late 1920s, DeGroff said. "If you've ever tried to make tomato juice at home, you know that canned tomato juice is something else entirely," said DeGroff, a great proponent of using fresh ingredients. He's tried and tried to make a tomato juice that matches the texture and flavor of the canned variety and concluded that it can't be done. He does, however, have a brand preference: Sacramento is best, he says.
Petiot, who died in 1975, told reporters he built on the drink — spicing it up with salt, cayenne, worcestershire sauce and lemon juice — when he moved to the famed King Cole Bar at the Hotel St. Regis in New York. The drink had been a bit of a flop at Harry's, but it was popular in New York. The bar's owners, however, thought the name Bloody Mary was too evocative and forced Petiot to rename the drink the Red Snapper (a name that didn't stick to the original but later was attached to a gin Bloody Mary).
But Barry Popik, in his all-about-New York Web site, bar rypopik.com, says he very much doubts that Petiot invented the drink in Paris: It isn't included in a Harry's Bar recipe book published in the late 1920s, and the date given is too early for canned tomato juice, he argues.
Popik seems to favor the George Jessel theory. In his biography, "The World I Lived In," the hard-drinking actor, singer and songwriter claimed he invented the Bloody Mary in a Palm Beach, Fla., bar in an attempt to cure a hangover after a night on the town. Even he tells the story several different ways. In one version, he thinks he should drink something healthy, like tomato juice, but really wants another belt, so he mixes tomato juice and Smirnoff. In another, the bartender suggests he try some "vodkee" and he remembers that his sister-in-law cured her hangovers with tomatoes.
In any case, Jessel's story is that he tried the drink out on department-store heiress Mary Brown Warburton, who spilled some on her white dress and quipped, "Now you can call me Bloody Mary."
About the only thing that everyone agrees on is that the name of the drink has nothing to do with Queen Mary of England, called Bloody Mary for her purges of Protestants.
Unlike many classic drinks, the formula for making a Bloody Mary is extremely — almost ridiculously — flexible. And absolutely everybody thinks they know how to make a great one. "You need to pay attention to people when they order a Bloody Mary because everybody has ideas about what they think the drink should be," DeGroff said.
DeGroff's philosophy is moderation and balance.
"People have ruined the drink because they make it so hot. The beauty of the drink is the sweetness of the tomato juice (balanced by the tartness of the lemon and the slight kick of the spice.) You put half a bottle of hot sauce in it and you destroy the balance and the beauty," he said.
Beyond Petiot's classic recipe — pepper, salt, worcestershire, cayenne or hot sauce, lemon juice, tomato juice — there is a world of Marys, each plugging different ingredients into the formula, such as gin for vodka, orange juice for lemon, clam juice for part of the tomato juice, and so on. Mott's Clamato juice is a product invented solely because of the Bloody Mary fad, said DeGroff.
One thing you don't need to do when you're ordering a Bloody Mary is call for a brand of vodka. Although DeGroff suggests you always drink the best you can afford, the ingredients of a Bloody Mary are so assertive that a good-quality well vodka is fine.
Reach Wanda A. Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.