I’ve recently visited Paris, where I had a lovely time sampling both classic and DIY Bloody Marys. Paris is the actual, factual birthplace of the Bloody. It was created by Fernand Petiot way back in 1920 at Harry’s New York Bar, according to the newspaper article hanging on the wall at Harry’s. Legend states that Fernand poured a can of tomato juice into an equal portion of vodka, and voila: “We all agreed it was pretty good,” the modest Frenchman said. “One of the boys suggested we call it Bloody Mary, because the drink reminded him of the Bucket of Blood club in Chicago, and he had a girl there named Mary.”
Fernand brought the drink with him to New York in 1934 when he signed on to be head bartender at the St. Regis Hotel. Many New Yorkers considered the flavor flat, so he altered the recipe to appeal to their more sophisticated palates: “Cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce. Then add a dash of lemon and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of 100-proof vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour.” He thought he was making a cocktail; little did he know he was making history.
Fernand Petiot held the post of head bartender at the St. Regis for thirty years, after which he retired to Canton, Ohio (his wife’s home town). He continued to tend bar part-time throughout his sixties, just to keep his skills sharp. Was the Bloody Mary he invented his favorite drink? Nope – he was partial to scotch and sodas, and drank two a day.
I had such fun talking to the bartender at Harry’s. I showed him photos of what Bloody Marys had become in the US, especially in Wisconsin. He was flabbergasted! “But, how do you drink it??” he wanted to know.
Weird coincidence: there, on the wall of a tiny bar in an obscure part of Paris, was my college pennant from li’l old Walla Walla, Washington. I’d give anything to know the story behind that!
In another part of Paris sits an unpretentious little cafe that appears to cater to American tastes. They serve whopping big hamburgers and fried chicken alongside more traditional French cuisine. I was curious about their interpretation of the Bloody Mary, so I ordered one. What arrived was a glass of watery-looking tomato juice, and an assortment of spices: Tabasco, celery salt, and Worcestershire. It was the closest thing I found to a Bloody Mary bar like the ones you’d find in the States. Not bad, but I think I went a little heavy on the Worcester. Better luck next time!
Have you run across a newsworthy Bloody Mary in your travels? Where were you, and what was it like? Do tell, and share pictures, please!