Food history: Bloody Mary

Bloody Marys: the only cocktail I know how to properly prepare. In fact, I barely know the difference between a martini and a Margarita.

There is just something about the savory and spicy feel of a Bloody Mary that makes it so special. That, and it gives us a great excuse to drink in the morning.


Definition: a mixed drink made principally with vodka and tomato juice

There is much debate about who invented the Bloody Mary, and where exactly this occurred. Even as I sit down to write this after doing extensive research I am finding discrepancies. 

There are two men primarily credited with the creation of the Bloody Mary: George Jessel and Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot. 

Petiot was a bartender working at Harry’s Bar in Paris during the 1920s. Russians escaping the revolution in their own country fled to Paris, and they brought their vodka with them. At the same time, canned tomato juice from America was becoming available in France.

The spices Petiot added to his cocktail were black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon, and for those who requested it, Tabasco sauce; Tabasco did not become a primary ingredient until the late 1950s.

After Prohibition was over in the states, Petiot brought his Bloody Mary to the King Cole Bar of the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan, famous for its massive mural depicting nursery rhymes.

The drink caught on as cure for hangovers, which it is still great for today.

Supposedly, the name “Bloody Mary” was too racy for the prestigious hotel and the name was changed to “Red Snapper” for awhile; I’ve also found accounts reporting that the Red Snapper was actually a mixture of gin and tomato juice, instead of the vodka.

The name of the drink itself is subject to different stories – everything from, it was named after a girl who frequented Petiot’s bar, to it was named for Queen Mary I, with “bloody” representing the spilled blood of everyone she executed

In addition to the its name, the inventor of the cocktail is also up for debate: a comedian by the name of George Jessel claimed he was the real originator of the beloved drink.

In 1964, Petiot was quoted by The New Yorker as saying, “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.”

Going off of that statement, we can arrive at the conclusion that if you consider a Bloody Mary to be half vodka and half tomato juice, then Jessel is the founder.

If you put a lot of stock into the spices (which I do), then Petiot is the one who really created the Bloody Mary as it is truly known to be, back then and now.

We could almost say that Jessel came up with the basic recipe, and Petiot enhanced it.

However, there is a problem with this train of thought: Jessel declared he invented the drink in 1939; Petiot was playing around with tomato juice and vodka in Paris in the 1920s.

Contrasting with my initial thought that Petiot should receive the honors, a man by the name of Jack McGarry wrote a quite extensive piece on the history of the Bloody Mary. With this post he makes a rather compelling argument for Jessel being our man.

He says, “The reason I have difficulty believing the Bloody Mary was created in that bar in Paris, whatever name you call it, is due to the lack of documentation or any sort of evidence supporting this assertion. If it was created in the Parisian institution, then why was it omitted from Harry MacElhone’s Barflies and Cocktails published in 1927? If this libation was being slung in his joint, surely he would have listed it, regardless of its popularity.”

Garry makes a good point, as Harry MacElhone is in fact the Harry of Harry’s Bar, the Paris joint that Petiot supposedly invented or perfected the Bloody Mary.

If anyone has any further insight on the birth of the Bloody Mary, by all means, comment and share with the whole class.

The Bloody Mary recipe I use religiously is adapted from David Bigg’s Cocktails cookbook. There is no horseradish, which some people use.

And – this is important – I use ice cubes to mix the drink, but they do not go in the drink itself. I can’t recall where I read that ice cubes shouldn’t be in Bloody Marys, but it’s always stuck with me. I cringe when I get served one with ice cubes at a restaurant or bar.


“My” Bloody Mary:

  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1 shot vodka
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 drops Tabasco sauce
  • generous sprinkling of black pepper
  • 4 ice cubes (only used for mixing!)

You can garnish with a celery stalk or lemon wedge, but I like a pickle spear myself.

3 thoughts on “Food history: Bloody Mary

  1. I really enjoyed reading this, and whoever invented it, I like the spicy version myself. I haven’t tried it with a pickle spear, but may do so. Do you do a dill or sweet? I have some spicy “Wickles Pickles” that might go nicely. Also, there is a bacon-enhanced recipe out there somewhere that actually blends bacon into the drink and well as garnishes with a bacon straw. Love the new blog format BTW!

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