Bangin’ Bloody Marys go beyond basics

This Bloody Mary was customized at the Sunspot Bloody Mary bar. (greg wood/special to

This Bloody Mary was customized at the Sunspot Bloody Mary bar. (greg wood/special to

Most people know that the Bloody Mary is primarily a morning beverage. Specifically, it’s used to (theoretically) cure hangovers, providing the “hair of the dog” approach. Nothing eases the pain of an evening of excessive alcohol consumption like more alcohol.

The vitamin-enriched tomato juice provides a batch of much-needed nutrients, which alcohol depletes. It’s also easier to get down thicker beverages in the morning.

Vodka, referred to as the “flavorless liquor” (which is arguable) conflicts least with the taste of its mixer. Spicy tomato juice masks its often sharp bite, so if your nausea is such that you never want to so much as smell alcohol again, fret not — the Bloody Mary hides it well.

Most sources point toward an English bartender working at the prestigious King Cole Bar in New York in the 1930s as the creator of the drink. He brought his concoction — the Red Snapper, which featured just tomato juice and vodka — to the States. It quickly became a signature drink, but over time patrons suggested that it needed to be spicier (according to “The Ultimate Bar Book” by Mittie Helmich, it was Ernest Hemingway who first suggested this). The bartender took the advice and started blending in salt, pepper, lemon and Worcestershire sauce, resulting in more positive reviews.

According to the King Cole Bar’s website (which cites a local socialite as having suggested the addition of spices, not Hemingway), the drink was christened the Bloody Mary, but the venue felt the name was too controversial for its upscale atmosphere, so it remained the Red Snapper. The drink eventually caught on and spread, bringing the Bloody Mary name with it.

Today the bar features the beverage as its signature cocktail and provides several variations with different recipes. And in my personal research, I’ve recently learned that the method of concoction means everything when it comes to the Bloody Mary.

Recently I was down in New Orleans at a place called Igor’s Lounge on St. Charles Avenue. A sign on the wall advertised the bar’s “world famous” Bloody Mary with the slogan “not just for breakfast anymore.” Being 11 p.m. on a Monday, I attempted to call their bluff.

I can safely say it was the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. New Orleans has its own Cajun blend, which not only comes with a melt-your-face-off level of spiciness, but also is garnished with a lemon, celery stalk and a green bean.

It’s thick, filling and potent. I felt the effects a little more than I was intending and couldn’t imagine drinking one in the morning. (I did several days later, which resulted in me making unnecessary purchases at the French Market.)

A Bloody Mary recipe says so much about a venue, a region of the country, or even the person making it. If you order one and you get a bland mix of tomato juice and vodka, never return to that venue.

Years ago, six friends and I spent an entire Sunday drinking Bloody Marys at Copper Cellar. I hadn’t ever ordered one before, and after downing two boring ones someone advised me to order a “spicy” one. On our next round, out came a scorchingly hot beverage. They clearly went to town with the Tabasco sauce. I loved it.

On the other hand, venues like Sunspot offer a Bloody Mary bar. It’s scaled back from what the title might suggest; they pour you vodka and juice in a glass, but they have a self-serve table with hot sauces, gigantic green olives, lemons and spices so that you can tailor your drink.

The Bloody Mary is so open-ended that it fascinates me. Usually, ordering a mixed drink says something about a person (i.e. martini drinkers are classy, gin-and-tonic drinkers seek refreshment with their buzz).

Ordering a Bloody Mary says basically nothing, except (a) you maybe had too much last night, (b) you like to drink early in the day, or (c) both.

The recipe says everything. If it’s bland, you’re at a bland bar. If it’s spicy, the bartender at least has the knowledge to season it correctly. If there’s a variable factor, the bartender must be creative.

If the restaurant or bar lets you do it yourself, the ball’s in your court (which many might prefer). But when you hit a bar and order one and you’re given a refreshing, biting, veggie-filled nutrient-fest with vodka masked by kicking hot sauce, you’ve found a great place.

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