Brunch! That glorious, lazy weekend meal when throwing back cocktails before noon is socially acceptable and encouraged. Mimosas, screwdrivers, and spritzers all have their fans, but true brunchers know that the Bloody Mary is the way to go. But who dreamt up the combination of tomato juice and vodka anyway?
And how did it get to be so popular? Let’s take a look back at the history of the Bloody Mary. Then we will give you our selections for the best Bloody Marys in South Carolina.
The Bloody Mary boasts a history packed with beguiling personalities and seemingly plausible happenings that involve an acclaimed American jockey, a famed international bartender, a popular comedian, a murderous queen, two world famous bars and a spoiled dress.
If you want to skip the History of the Bloody Mary and get right to the Best Bloody Marys In South Carolina, click here!
The earliest tomato juice cocktails did not contain alcohol. An American-born chef, Louis Perrin, popularized the tomato juice cocktail in 1917. Working at a resort in French Lick, Indiana (home of Larry Bird), he ran out of orange juice and improvised by squeezing tomatoes and seasoning the juice with salt, pepper and spices.
The breakfast drink was a huge success and its popularity spread throughout the country. With the advent of canned tomato juice in the early 1920’s the cocktail was especially popular during prohibition.
Now our story takes us across the Atlantic ocean to Paris, France. In 1911, a former star American jockey, Tod Sloan, was keen to recreate the atmosphere of a New York saloon. He had a Manhattan bar dismantled and shipped to Paris. He then converted a small bistro located at 5 Rue Daunou to a saloon named New York Bar.
Sloan had been a world renowned jockey who, in 1898, had won an incredible 46% of his races. Moving his tack to England, he continued his winning ways and also continued his ostentatious lifestyle – packed with beautiful women that made him one of the first international stars of that era.
He cavorted with such personages as Diamond Jim Brady, the world-known millionaire businessman. He traveled with his own personal valet. In 1900, Edward, Prince of Wales, offered Sloan to be the first-call jockey for his stable the following year, a very prestigious position.
Yet, in 1901, he came under scrutiny by the British Jockey Club (the sport’s regulators) for betting on races in which he competed. They advised him that they would not renew his license and that he was banned from racing in England. American racing authorities honored the ban. He never rode for the Prince of Wales. His jockey career came to an end.
After some failed attempts at vaudeville and theatre in America, Sloan decided to return to Europe, and that is when he purchased the Manhattan bar and had it shipped to Paris.
Yet, if not for the 18th amendment (prohibition) and the Russian Revolution, the Bloody Mary might not have been invented.
The novelty of a New York style bar became such a welcoming landing place for liquor deprived Americans during Prohibition that they learned to tell Parisian taxi drivers “Sank Roo Doe Noo,” which for a long time has been painted on the bar’s windows.
The bar had also become popular with U.S. servicemen in Europe; the American Field Service Ambulance, in particular, called New York Bar ‘home’ as well as many expats.
Around 1920, refugees escaping the Russian Revolution began arriving in Paris bringing with them vodka and caviar. At the New York Bar, bartender Fernand “Pete” Petiot began experimenting with vodka, which was unfamiliar to him and, to his tastes, a bland spirit.
At the same time, Petiot was introduced to American canned tomato juice, which was then popular in the U.S. Petiot had begun working at the New York Bar in 1916 as a kitchen porter when he was just 16 years old. It is claimed that he was behind the stick in 1921 when he created the Bloody Mary by mixing vodka and tomato juice.
Asking how the name of the Bloody Mary originated is a bit like asking Larry King the name of his wife. There is not one, there are plenty. The most popular story is that Petiot named it after Queen Mary I of England. The queen was an ardent supporter of the Catholic church and it is well documented that she detested her father’s divorce (Henry VIII) and schism that created the church of England.
She reinstated the Heresy Acts in 1554 in which she persecuted Protestant heretics, whom 283 were burned at the stake giving her the unofficial title of Queen “Bloody” Mary.
Another possible inspiration is that Petiot prepared the drink for entertainer Ray Barton and Barton told him the drink reminded him of a cabaret he performed at and a waitress that worked there. The cabaret was the infamous Bucket of Blood in Chicago known for its bloody brawls, and Mary was the name of the waitress.
Barton suggested he call the drink a Bloody Mary. In an interview with the Cleveland Press in 1972, Petiot recalled the conversation but was coy as to this being his inspiration.
“Toastmaster General of the U.S.”
Another name associated with the Bloody Mary is George Jessel, who in his heyday was known as the “Toastmaster General of the U.S.” for his frequent role of master of ceremonies at major events. Jessel was a comedian, vaudeville star, movie star and performed on Broadway.
He led a colorful life that encompassed three marriages, numerous affairs and a notorious shooting incident. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1927, Jessel was living in Palm Beach, Florida. After a softball game he went with Philadelphian playboy, Elliot Sperver, to LaMaze, a nightclub in Palm Beach, and began swilling champagne.
Mind you, this was during Prohibition. At 8:00 a.m. they were still at it, and Jessel remembered he had a volleyball engagement with Al Vanderbilt at 9:30 a.m. Hungover, he asked the bartender for a pick me up. The bartender held up a dusty bottle of vodka. Jessel thought it smelled like rotten potatoes, but thought, ‘what did he have to lose?’ He asked for worcestershire sauce, tomato juice and lemon to kill the smell. After a few quaffs, Jessel said he felt better.
At that moment, Mary Brown Warburton walked in. An heir to the Wanamaker department store fortune, she liked to be around show business people and obviously had been out all night because she was still dressed in a beautiful white evening dress.
George asked her to try the drink and see what she thought. When she did she spilled some down her white dress, saw the mess, and told George that he could call her Bloody Mary.
At that moment, Mary Brown Warburton walked in. An heir to the Wanamaker department store fortune, she liked to be around show business people and obviously had been out all night because she was still dressed in a beautiful white evening dress. George asked her to try the drink and see what she thought. When she did she spilled some down her white dress, saw the mess, and told George that he could call her Bloody Mary.”Legend has it that the Russian Prince Serge Obelensky, ordered a Bloody Mary from Petiot but wanted it with extra spice. Petiot added Tabasco and now had his formula.”
Continuing to live an extravagant lifestyle,Tod Sloan ran into financial difficulties. He was forced to sell the New York Bar, in 1923, to a man he hired to run the establishment in 1911. Harry MacElhone, a mixologist in his own right, then added his name to the bar.
By this time, the newly named Harry’s New York Bar was a frequent hangout for such luminaries as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, as well as the hard drinking Ernest Hemingway.
George Gershwin is said to have composed An American in Paris at Harry’s New York Bar. Meanwhile, Petiot left Harry’s in 1925 and did a stint at the ritzy Savoy Hotel in London. It might be seen that the Bloody Mary had not caught on; MacElhone wote a bar guide in 1927, and did not include it in his recipes of drinks served at Harry’s.
Mary Duke Biddle, the owner of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, head-hunted Petiot. In 1934, he took up as head bartender (after the repeal of Prohibition) at the illustrious King Cole Bar in the hotel.
The King Cole Bar was (and is) a regal and classic place. Patrons can have a drink under the watchful eye of the iconic Manfield Parrish’s King Cole Mural.
Since leaving Harry’s, Petiot had tinkered with the simple drink he had created by adding spices, sauces and citrus. Legend has it that the Russian Prince Serge Obelensky, a regular at the King Cole Bar (and a man about town) ordered a Bloody Mary from Petiot but wanted it with extra spice. Petiot added Tabasco and now had his formula.
”The name Red Snapper, however, never caught on with the public, but the Bloody Mary itself continued to grow in popularity.”
What to make of all this? Is it Petiot or Jessel? On July 18, 1964, Petiot in an interview with The New Yorker acknowledged Jessel’s role in the development of the Bloody Mary, but said that he was the one who perfected it. And that he did.
“I cover the bottom of the cocktail shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce and a splash of Tabasco. I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in an ounce of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice. Shake, strain and pour. We serve a hundred and fifty Bloody Mary’s a day in the King Cole Room.”
In 1935, the St. Regis was purchased by Vincent Astor and he objected to the name Bloody Mary (coincidence, his wife’s name was Mary) as vulgar and not fit for the St. Regis. The new name was the Red Snapper, and until this day, the St. Regis serves a Red Snapper following Petiot’s classic rendition.
The name Red Snapper, however, never caught on with the public, but the Bloody Mary itself continued to grow in popularity. To my thinking, the history is interesting, but in the end, I’m just happy the Bloody Mary was invented.
A Red Snapper
Few things are better than a rich, spicy Bloody Mary to go with a wonderful brunch. Yet, after sampling over 60 cocktails throughout South Carolina, I came to realize that not all Bloody Marys are created equal.
I can’t tell you how many times I was served a concoction of watered down V8 juice, well vodka and a celery stick that hardly deserved the right to call itself a Bloody Mary! But don’t despair! I have found brunch spots and bars that serve transcendent ones. On the hunt? Look no further.
Here is the list for the nine best Bloody Marys in South Carolina. As usual they are in no particular order or rank. Cheers!
The Darling Oyster Bar
Why? The Captain – Pepper infused vodka, house made mix, shrimp, hush puppy on a stick, a king crab leg and a whole lobster claw. Some celery and pickles. A feast for shellfish lovers.
513 King Street
Tupelo Honey Cafe
Why? Dixie black pepper vodka, golden tomato bloody mary mix, Di Mitri’s Bloody Mary seasoning. Fresh lemon, fresh lime, pickled okra, pimento cheese stuffed olives, grilled shrimp, green bean, pickled jalapeno, Chili Salt rim.
Glossary: Dimitri mix – worcestershire, lemon juice, garlic, secret spices.
1 Main Street
Why? Refreshing vegetable-heavy drink of tomato, celery, onion juice, carrot juice, watercress juice, parsley, horseradish, housemade bourbon smoked pepper, vodka. Garnish with a strip of county ham.
76 Queen St
Why? Candied bacon, cube of cheese, lemon wedge, slice of cucumber, piece of fresh shrimp, slice of artisanal sausage and crispy jalapeno pepper. House made mix, vodka. Old Bay rim.
2005A North Ocean Boulevard
Myrtle Beach, SC
Why? Tito’s vodka, Nueske bacon, olive, lime, lemon. Boiled egg. Pickled things on the side: carrots, okra, green beans, zucchini.
Glossary: Nueske bacon – premium smoked bacon from Wisconsin.
10880 Ocean Highway
Pawleys Island, SC
(843) 979- 2747
Why? Absolut pepper vodka, oyster shooter, Zing Zang bloody mary mix, cocktail sauce, lemon juice, stuffed olives, Guinness. I found the Guiness to make for a smoother drink. Interesting.
Glossary: Oyster shooter – mini bloody. Oyster placed at the bottom of the glass. Topped with vodka, cocktail sauce, lemon juice.
Zing zang mix: Perfectly seasoned. Right amount of burn at finish.
936 Gervais Street
Why? Proud Mary – Skewers of shrimp, sausage, pickled okra, grilled pineapple, Zing Zang, deviled eggs, vodka. A towering drink that would make Tina Turner proud.
10683 Ocean Highway
Why? Tomato juice, clamato, sriracha, hoisin, spices, pickled okra, vodka. Interesting far east influences.
Glossary: Sriracha – a chilli sauce originating in Thailand with moderate heat.
Hoisin – thick and fragrant sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine with a sweet and salty taste.
340 King Street
The Farehouse at Taylor’s Mill
Why? Vodka infused in-house with celery, onion, bell pepper, jalapenos, cucumber, garlic, bacon, house made mix.
250 Mill Street
On the Rise
These are places that are worth a stop if you are in the area. All make a well-crafted Bloody Mary and have the potential to move to the top list. I’ll check back hopefully in the fall.
Build Your Own
To make the cut here you must have vodkas, mixes, sauces, spices, citrus, celery, olives, horseradish, pickled things and more. You get the picture. Here are the best.
Tomato juice and vodka in Paris. A little more in Palm Beach. A classic in New York City. If you ever travel to Manhattan it’s well worth the time to stop at the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel. This is where “Pete” Petiot perfected the Bloody Mary. This is where he made martinis for Ava Gardner, Americanos for Rex Harrison, poured scotch for Joe DiMaggio, and served Salvador Dali Vichy water and orange juice.
Take a seat at the bar and order a “Red Snapper.” You’ll be back in 1935. Gaze at the King Cole mural. Call the bartender over and ask why the court jesters are smirking. Every regular of the bar knows the answer. And so will you. But if you can’t get to the St. Regis, I might just divulge the “secret” on my next journey to find the best Bloody Marys in South Carolina. See you next time.