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The Bloody Mary – A Cocktail Drink With A Great Taste & A Great Story

Posted by docrocks on August 2, 2017

The Bloody Mary – A Cocktail Drink With A Great Taste & A Great Story

We know you love a great Bloody Mary Like the award winning one we serve at River City Saloon in Old Sacramento so we thought we would share some facts about this great drink called the Bloody Mary.

A drink that dates all the way back into the 1920s, the Bloody Mary is an elixir with an unusual recipe that is a must-serve for top-rated bars like The River City Saloon in Sacramento California.

Created on a combination of vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, spices, hot sauce, and celery, the Bloody Mary has received quite the attention over the years with the part of “originator” even being claimed by many who sought to take the credit, but given the many stories that have surfaced, questions like who invented the tasty drink and who it was named after, is still in question today.

One of the two credible tales surrounds a bartender named Fernand Petiot, who shared that the Bloody Mary was born sometime in 1921 when he realized that it was profitable to make cocktails that would also suit the new clientele of Russian émigrés by including the Russian vodka. The new customers who patronized the American bar in which he worked at in Paris called Harry’s New York Bar, came to the country to escape the Russian Revolution. While experimenting with the hard liquid, he found canned “tomato juice cocktail” to be an ideal match. The drink made Petiot one of the most famed barkeeps when he was offered a plum job in New York and transferred there in 1934 as the main bartender at the King Cole Bar at the St. Régis Hotel. Petiot then retired in 1966.

While one legend has it that Petiot named the drink after Queen “Bloody” Mary Tudor, a violent and harsh queen who killed approximately 300 protestants during her reign, as a dark joke in the then war-ravaged Europe, the holes in Petiot’s story were soon poked at by an esteemed etymologist named Barry Popik. As Popik noted, Petiot claimed he invented the Bloody Mary and gave it that name in Paris at the Harry’s New York Bar in which he worked. The bar would usually published a recipe book of its drinks, however there is no mention of any drink with the ingredients of the Bloody Mary yet alone any drink using the name during that time. This slight doubt was put to bed when he shared that he did call it the Bloody Mary initially when he came to New York, but the owner of the bar he started to work at requested the name be changed.

Popik also highlights the skepticism on Petiot’s recollections on the fact that the canned tomato juice cocktail that he said was used as an ingredient in his drink wasn’t a thing until the late 1920s.

The first known documented mention of the “Bloody Mary” was identified in a 1939 article written by the Chicago Tribune’s Walter Winchell. Winchell was a friend of the “Toastmaster General of the United States”, a famous vaudeville star, Broadway actor, comedian and master of ceremonies during that time, George Jessel. Jessel tells his story of how he invented the drink in 1927, in his 1975 autobiography, The World I Lived In. The extract reads:

“In 1927, I was living in Palm Beach, or on a short visit, I don’t remember which, where nearly every year I captained a softball team for a game against the elite of Palm Beach such as the Woolworth Donohues, the Al Vanderbilts, the Reeves, and their ilk….

Following the game myself, and a guy named Elliot Sperver, a Philadelphia playboy, went to La Maze’s and started swilling champagne.  We were still going strong at 8am the next morning…. We tried everything to kill our hangovers and sober up.  Then Charlie the bartender, enjoying our plight, reached behind the bar.   “Here, George, try this,” he said, holding up a dusty bottle I had never seen before.  “They call it vodkee.  We’ve had it for six years and nobody has ever asked for it.”

I looked at it, sniffed it.  It was pretty pungent and smelled like rotten potatoes. “Hell, what have we got to lose? Get some Worcestershire sauce, some tomato juice, and lemon; that ought to kill the smell,” I commanded Charlie.  I also remembered that Constance Talmadge, destined to be my future sister-in-law, always used to drink something with tomatoes in it to clear her head the next morning and it always worked- at least for her.

“We’ve tried everything else, boys, we might as well try this,” I said as I started mixing the ingredients in a large glass.  After we had taken a few quaffs, we all started to feel a little better. The mixture seemed to knock out the butterflies.

Just at that moment, Mary Brown Warburton walked in.  A member of the Philadelphia branch of the Wanamaker department store family, she liked to be around show business people and later had a fling with Ted Healey, the comic.  She had obviously been out all night because she was still dressed in a beautiful white evening dress. “Here, Mary take a taste of this and see what you think of it.”  Just as she did, she spilled some down the front of her white evening gown, took one look at the mess, and laughed, “Now you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”

From that day to this, the concoction I put together at La Maze’s has remained a Bloody Mary with very few variations.  Charlie pushed it every morning when the gang was under the weather.  Now, about a year later, the benefit of Joe E Lewis was to be held at the Oriental Theater and I was sitting in my hotel room with Ted Healey before leaving for the theater.  Ted, as usual, was slightly inebriated.  He happened to pick up a copy of a Chicago paper and read an item in Winchell’s column.  It said that I had named the Bloody Mary after Ted’s then steady girl, Mary Brown Warburton.

Ted turned white, “What the hell are you doing making a pass at my girl, you son of a bitch,” he yelled.  And just as he did, he pulled out a pistol and tried to shoot me.  I ducked and the shot missed, but as the pistol went within a foot of my right ear, I was completely deaf for a week.  I had a hell of a job doing the benefit that night.”

While both stories may give us much reason to believe both Petiot and Jessel, and credit is due to both men for giving it its popularity, it is said that the drink may even pre-date them with evidence in a March 12, 1892 edition of the Hospital Gazette in London. The published text tells us of a drink in a club across the pond in Manhattan that would “benefit those who may be possessed of suicidal intentions”. The ingredients? “Seven small oysters are dropped into a tumbler, to which must be added a pinch of salt, three drops of fiery Tabasco sauce, three drops of Mexican Chili sauce, and a spoonful of lemon juice. To this mixture add a little horseradish, and green pepper sauce, African pepper ketchup, black pepper, and fill up with tomato juice.”

I guess we can just say that a Bloody Mary is a Bloody Mary if it has the minimum base ingredients of vodka and tomato juice. Whatever ingredients bartender’s choose to add when serving a Bloody Mary, you haven’t had the perfect glass of the tasty drink if you haven’t tried it at the The River City Saloon located in the historic Old Sacramento district, California. Cheers to the greatest!