I opened Pandora’s box recently by naively asking a group of friends what makes the best Bloody Mary. Their responses were as varied as those of a group of four-year-olds being asked to name the single best Christmas gift. My friends offered up renditions sweet, savory, classic, outlandish and everything in between—and each was adamant that his or hers was the best.

What I have learned is that this variety and lack of agreement applies to nearly every aspect of the Bloody Mary—not only the ingredients but also its very invention and namesake. There’s a reason that the Bloody, as its most ardent fans familiarly call it, has been dubbed the world’s most complex cocktail.

When it comes to the creator of the first Bloody Mary, history is unclear, even downright murky. There are two competing theories of attribution. The first is that the cocktail was invented in Paris by Fernand “Pete” Petiot, a bartender at Harry’s New York Bar, frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and his expat set. The second gives credit to New York’s “21” Club, which dubbed its new hair-of-the-dog cocktail the Red Hammer. Whoever owns the title, I think he had to be a bit strange to think that tomato juice and vodka would be a good combination. I guess that’s why he was and I’m not a professional mixologist.

Then there’s the unusual name: There, too, the complexity continues, with several popular theories. One is that the drink was named for brief-reigning, 16th-century British monarch Mary I, who had a penchant for having her enemies burned at the stake—pretty bloody indeed. Another is that the drink was a particular favorite of Hollywood film star Mary Pickford, and bringing up the theory rear is the assertion that the cocktail’s namesake was a Chicago waitress named Mary who worked at the Bucket of Blood bar. As charming as that establishment sounds, I’m firmly in the Queen Mary camp.

Now, heaven forbid all this competing theory and lack of agreement folderol end with history. Oh no. For why should the cocktail’s ingredient list be any less definitive, right? As evidenced by the myriad assertions of my friends, there’s little about the ingredient list that is considered universally sacred, outside of the inclusion of tomato juice and vodka. Unless of course you prefer V8 or Clamato juice. If you do, for the purposes of this article, I’m pretending you don’t exist. I just can’t handle another level of complexity…

Julianne Puckett is a content producer who develops recipes and writes about food at YankeeKitchenNinja.com . She longs for the day when the only complex thing in her life is a Bloody Mary.

Purists and novices should start with this classic Bloody Mary recipe.


4 ounces tomato juice
2 ounces vodka
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
⅛ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
⅛ teaspoon salt
Pinch of celery salt
Pinch of ground black pepper

Shake all ingredients and strain into a tall glass. Rim the glass with salt, if desired, and garnish with large stalk of celery.

But if you want to embrace the cocktail’s famous complexity, try one of these other witty but delicious variations:

The Uncanny Mary (for the home preserver)

  • Substitute pickle or cucumber vodka for regular
  • Rim the glass with celery salt
  • Garnish with a dilly bean

The Seaside Mary (for those that enjoy the open water)

  • Substitute Clamato juice for tomato
  • Swap the celery salt for Old Bay seasoning
  • Rim the glass with mixture of Old Bay and coarse sea salt
  • Garnish with a skewer of cooked cocktail shrimp

The Hipster Mary (for, well, the hipsters)

  • Substitute a craft vodka for regular (try Barr Hill from Caledonia Spirits)
  • Rim the glass with bourbon smoked salt (I get mine from Bourbon Barrel foods)
  • Garnish with a thick slice of crispy bacon

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