Words: Johnny von Einem & Angela Skujins
Pictures: Kelsey Zafiridis
Like most legendary cocktails, the story of the Bloody Mary is shrouded in myth.
It may have been invented in Paris in 1921, the consequence of Americans and Russians fleeing to France and bringing with them canned tomato juice and vodka, respectively. Fernand Petiot, a Parisian bartender, is said to have married the two elements at New York Bar in Paris, a drinkery darkened by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming, Humphrey Bogart, Coco Chanel and Daft Punk.
This might be the real story. Or it could be that the drink was invented more than a decade later, in the actual New York City, at a bar called 21 Club, by comedian George Jessel. But even in this telling, Petiot is said to have had a role. He was living in the Big Apple at the time of Jessel’s claim, and told The New Yorker in 1964: “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over.”
Petiot’s recipe includes salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, but variations abound. No vodka? Add gin for a Bloody Margaret (or Red Snapper), tequila for a Bloody Maria, absinthe for a Bloody Fairy, sake for a Bloody Geisha, or arak for a Bloody Miriam. If you don’t add anything, call it a Virgin Mary or a Bloody Shame. The Canucks sub in clamato juice (clam broth and tomato juice) and call it a Caesar. Along the US-Mexican border, you’ll find a version that switches vodka for beer, known as a Michelada.
The Bloody Mary’s namesake, too, is unclear. It might be a nod to Queen Mary I; actor Mary Pickford; a waitress named Mary who worked in a bar called Bucket of Blood; or on behalf of one of Petiot’s patrons, who met his girlfriend, Mary, at a cabaret also called Bucket of Blood. Or it might be the way Petiot fumbled the pronunciation of Vladimir Smirnov’s name when he once made the cocktail for the visiting vodka distiller.
The truth will remain unknown. Stories from the night before are foggy the next day, and foggier still the day after that. Fitting then that the Bloody Mary is the official drink of the morning after: a boozy brunch rebounder to get you back on your feet.
Bloody Mary is your friend in festival season, so please make good use of our favourites.
The Alt Girl
Crown & Anchor, Grenfell Street
On-menu: Y | Flavour: 6 | Texture: 4 | Fun: 8 | Location: 7 | Post-BM feeling: 10
Don’t be fooled by the pretty parasol, voluptuous glassware and lovely dappled light shading you on Union Street – this is a Bloody Mary for alternative tastes. Give the lemon a good squeeze, then stir the drink vigorously with your straw. If you don’t, expect the slap in the face that is a mouthful of uncut eight-year-old Lagavulin, which The Cranker uses in place of vodka. It’s unconventional, and punishing if not properly mixed. Whisky dominates the palate, with some pepper coming through. The spice picks up as you progress through the glass, with the mix of flavours otherwise standing up to the melting ice. If you stayed out late enough to earn some penance, take your lashes with this one.
The Hot Boi
Cocina Comida, Ebenezer Place
On-menu: N | Flavour: 6 | Texture: 7 | Fun: 7 | Location: 7 | Post-BM feeling: 9
Cocina Comida’s owner, Reuben Williamson, delivers CityMag two glasses and two bottles of beer with a warning: “If these are too hot, I apologise”. Fair play. The CityMaggers clink pilsners and spill them into their glasses. Ice and Bloody Mary mix dance in diffusion. This is a Michelada – something like a Mexican spritz. Chilli flakes float atop the foam, the rim coated with Tajin and habanero salt. On first sip, a divide between the two tasters is made clear: one, raised in Singapore, lauds the depth of the tomato flavour and textural interest of the chilli flakes; the other, raised in country South Australia, sent for napkins. A Michelada is mostly beer, so there’s no viscosity. Another warning: beware of beer bloat.
Smokelovers, Rundle Street
On-menu: N | Flavour: 9 | Texture: 8.5 | Fun: 7 | Location: 7 | Post-BM feeling: 11
A roundtable of tasters rub their hands together as this drink arrives. Some immediate thoughts: tastes like a cheeseburger; it’s almost like gazpacho; Rosella canned tomato soup vibes; light spice at the back of the throat. “$22 for a whole meal,” someone jokes. For one taster, it was a no. The two tasters leading this Bloody Mary journey, though, agree it was their favourite. There’s a lot going on: lemon and pickle garnish, Maggi seasoning, salsa, two types of brine, and vegan Worcestershire sauce available if requested. The pickle is held together with a love heart skewer, and the rim is salted (though a paper straw is provided). This is not a pick-me-up, it’s a drink to sit and think about.
The Breath of Fresh Air
Café Troppo, Iparrityi Whitmore Square
On-menu: Y | Flavour: 8 | Texture: 7 | Fun: 6.5 | Location: 9 | Post-BM feeling: 10
It’s always calm at Troppo. It must be the trees and patch of Park Lands out front. This is a place to bring a hangover and feel cared for. The Bloody Mary is served in a pint glass, and garnished with a squiggle of pickled cucumber and rosemary salt scattered on top (though we couldn’t make out the salt). A lemon wedge, pre-squeezed, sits in the glass. You’re really being looked after. We attack the pickle first, dipping it through the rosemary. It’s not as sour as we assumed. On first sip, there’s a faint hit of Tabasco, but the spice never rises to main character status. The KI Spirits vodka is thoroughly disguised. The platonic ideal of a Bloody Mary.
Udaberri, Leigh Street
On-menu: Y | Flavour: 7 | Texture: 7 | Fun: 9 | Location: 8 | Post-BM feeling: 10
Our tester was solo for this venture, and had just been delivered some sad news. The clock struck five, it was 30°C outside, and he needed some artificial cheer. Udaberri’s Bloody Mary was the answer. The garnishes are abundant: olive, lemon and pickled chilli skewered together, with cucumber and plumed celery. The rim is heavily salted, so ditch the pasta straws and stir with the greenery. The drink is saucy, rich with tomato. An undercurrent of chilli and pepper spice lingers. As the glass drains, the lemon, which we squeezed, becomes more noticeable. It’s refreshing, but if pepper is not your thing it may distract you. We left Udaberri having
recovered some zest, rehydrated enough for the ride home.
Sean’s Kitchen, North Terrace
On-menu: Y | Flavour: 6 | Texture: 7 | Fun: 7 | Location: 6 | Post-BM feeling: 10
We first ordered a Bloody Mary from Sean’s Kitchen in 2015. The drink was the consistency of soup, poured in a tall, wide glass, and with a spring roll skewered with a chopstick on top. Things have changed since 2015. Today, it’s in a thinner glass and garnished with lemon, olive and a dry and chewy cucumber. No salt on the rim. However, on first sip: “That slaps.” The drink is good. There’s spice, and high notes from the lemon, pepper and tomato. It’s not thick, but there is viscosity. The bartender says it’s a Diffords recipe. The classics are classics for a reason. What became of the skewered spring roll? We’re told the restaurant lost its ostentation since 2015.