The Bloody Mary has become as synonymous with brunch and hangovers as Margaritas and Gin & Tonics are with summer. Invented over 80 years ago, the classic cocktail has a history that’s as rich as the sanguine mix it employs, including plenty of myths and rumors about its origin and that of its many ingredients. Here, five bits of Bloody Mary wisdom that will make you the most interesting person at your next brunch.
One tangible origin: A Paris bartender and the Prairie Oyster
One of the most popular American “hangover cocktails” in the late 19th century, the Prairie Oyster mixed a freshly cracked egg with spices, Worcestershire sauce or vinegar and a smidgen of a proto-cocktail sauce—a cure-all that was meant to be gulped down in one go. Though it’s easy to see how the booze-free shooter resembles the Bloody Mary of today, the classic cocktail likely didn’t come together until Fernand “Pete” Petiot of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris came to work at New York’s King Cole Bar at the St. Regis and debuted a different drink: the Red Snapper, which blended vodka (popular in Paris thanks to a wave of Russian immigrants that came to the city after the Russian Revolution) with fresh tomato and lemon juices. Supposedly influenced by the Prairie Oyster, Petiot is believed to have added spices and Worcestershire sauce to his signature tomato concoction, inventing the beloved brunch sipper we all know today.
Ernest Hemingway developed his own version of the classic cocktail
With a penchant for drinking and tweaking classic cocktails into large batches that would quench the thirst of giants, Papa Doble created one of the most delicious Bloody Mary recipes that you’ve never had. Made in a pitcher, his variation is extremely simple, calling for a liter of vodka and tomato juice, an entire bottle of Worcestershire sauce, the juice of two limes, and pinches of celery salt, black pepper and cayenne. It’s the best way to create an unlimited Bloody Mary bar in the comfort of your own home.
“Bloody Mary” is a reference to Queen Mary Tudor, of England and Ireland
Queen Mary I, who ruled from 1553 until her death in 1558, is remembered for her “bloody” crusade against Protestants in England and Ireland, which posthumously earned her the nickname Bloody Mary. While the origins of how the cocktail came to share this name are somewhat murky (besides its obvious color and viscosity), the first printed reference to the Bloody Mary cocktail was in 1939, in a piece written by comedian George Jessel for Lucius Beebe's column in the New York Herald Tribune.
The celery stick garnish started in Chicago
Though the Bloody Mary can now be garnished with all kinds of crazy, its most classic iteration uses a simple celery stick. Allegedly, the now ubiquitous garnish first started at Chicago bar Butch McGuire’s. According to the bar’s website, a customer was given a Bloody Mary without a swizzle stick, so he reached for a nearby stalk of celery to stir his drink—and just like that, the celery stick garnish caught on. However, some customers argue that the event happened instead at neighboring bar the Pump Room, and was only then copied by Butch McGuire’s.
A pint of black peppercorns was infused into the vodka
Supposedly, Fernand Petiot’s recipe at the King Cole Bar called for a dash of “liquid black pepper,” a housemade infusion that steeped a pint of black peppercorns in a bottle of vodka for six weeks. The tincture was dashed into the drink like bitters, and gave the cocktail a supremely spicy depth that fresh ground pepper can’t quite match. If you make your own infusion at home, try experimenting with other types of peppercorns, like green or pink peppercorns, for a more floral spiciness, or szechuan peppercorns for a mouthing numbingly piquant flavor.