The Bloody Mary cocktail has a fascinating history filled with intrigue, mystery, and a dash of creativity. As one of the most iconic brunch cocktails, it has become a beloved classic among cocktail enthusiasts worldwide. Drinks International named it the 11th most popular cocktail in the world. Yet, its true origin remains a subject of debate, with a couple of intriguing theories attempting to unravel the enigma.
Theory 1: The 1920s Parisian Connection
One popular theory traces the cocktail's roots back to the 1920s. It is believed that an American bartender named Fernand Petiot, working at the renowned Harry's New York Bar in Paris, concocted the drink. He mixed vodka with tomato juice and a blend of spices, inspired by the traditional Russian drink "Vodka and Zakuski." (Zakuski means small plates) At the time, Russian vodka was starting to make its way to Europe after the Russian Revolution. Petiot left Paris for New York City in 1925, bringing the Bloody Mary with him. He first worked at the Savoy Hotel and then landed a gig at the famous St. Regis Hotel. It wasn’t until 1934, after Prohibition, that he became the head bartender and presided over the King Cole Bar.
Named "Bucket of Blood" initially, perhaps after the famous saloon bar in Chicago, it was later referred to as the Bloody Mary due to its vibrant color, possibly named after Queen Mary I of England.
Theory 2: The Palm Beach Hangover Cure
In a conflicting version, some believe that the Bloody Mary originated in Palm Beach in 1927. An actor-comedian named George Jessel from New York claimed to have invented the cocktail at an establishment called La Maze. While living in Palm Beach, he was known to have organized softball games between his rag-tag New York café friends and the Palm Beach elite. After a long night of imbibing champagne, he asked the bartender for some help with a concoction that would alleviate his hangover. The bartender pulled out some vodka no one had touched in years and Jessel combined it with tomato juice, lemon juice, and worcestershire sauce, to kill the smell of the vodka. A friend, Mary Brown Warburton, walked in the moment that the drinks were being passed around. As she grabbed one, she spilled it down her white dress and laughed, “Now you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”
Regardless of its elusive beginnings, the Bloody Mary's popularity soared throughout the 20th century, becoming a brunch staple and evolving into numerous variations. Its unique blend of flavors and the mystery surrounding its origins continue to captivate cocktail enthusiasts, making it a timeless classic that will undoubtedly endure for years to come.
For a well-researched report of the Bloody Mary’s origin, check out Bloody Mary Cocktails – How To Make & History by Simon Difford and Jack McGarry.