If you brunch (or if you're familiar with the sensation of having one too many the night before) you know the Bloody Mary. At heart, the drink is vodka, tomato juice and spices with some kind of garnish, but the Bloody Mary has grown into so much more than the basic drink. Bartenders love to make the cocktail their own and they love to share that creativity with Bloody Mary aficionados. Interested in seeing just how many different kinds of Bloody Marys one city can make? You need to attend the Bloody Mary Festival.
The beloved brunch cocktail is a popular hangover cure, but that's not the drink's origin story.
The Bucket of Blood
Created by Ferdinand "Pete" Petiot sometime in the 1920s at Harry's New York Bar in Paris (a hot spot for ex-pat Americans happy to be away from Prohibition) the drink was the perfect storm of newly-invented canned tomato juice and vodka brought to Paris by Russians escaping the Russian Revolution. It was a hit with the bar's patrons, including Ernest Hemingway, but it was American entertainer Roy Barton who gave the drink it's original name: the Bucket of Blood, after a nightclub in Chicago.
In 1933 Petiot was asked to go to New York City to run the King Cole Bar at the St. Régis Hotel. He brought the drink with him, though Vincent Astor, owner of the St. Régis, wasn't happy with the name and had it changed to the Red Snapper. At some point in the late 30s, other bars in the city started calling the drink by the name we know it today. How the name changed happened is a little fuzzy (as everything should be after a good Bloody Mary), but entertainer George Jessel claimed to have named the drink after a friend of his.
Fast forward to today, when you can find a Bloody Mary in every local bar in the country, along with a variety of Bloody Mary mixes you can buy at the store. In many ways, the best Bloody Mary is the one that you like. But if you're ready to branch out and try some new, innovative Bloody Marys, there's an easy way to do that.
The Bloody Mary Festival
For seven years The Bloody Mary Festival, which is the largest event of its kind according to the event producers, has been hosting parties in cities across the U.S. showcasing the most delicious Bloody Marys. Festival organizers invite local bars, restaurants and craft mixes to serve their most innovative Bloody Marys. Expert judges offer their thoughts on the different drinks, while festival attendees get to taste everything and vote on the People's Choice Award. Plus, there's live music, local food trucks and restaurants, and fun photo ops.
Local mixologists go all out to make the best and most creative Bloody Marys, especially when it comes to the garnish on the drink. While the drink itself is important, the garnish is where you can really have some fun. You might find a grilled cheese sandwich perched on your class, or a tiny slice of pizza, or what looks like a salad topped with bacon.
Tito's Handmade Vodka is an event sponsor, and there are plenty of local companies in each city that offer food and other craft cocktails. The festival, which in past years has visited New Orleans and Washington, D.C., is coming to 12 different cities this year.
Here's the Bloody Mary Festival schedule for 2020:
- March 14: Nashville, Tennessee
- March 15: Atlanta, Georgia
- April 4: Hudson Valley, New York
- April 18: New York City
- May 1-2: Twin Cities, Minnesota
- August 8: Portland, Oregon
- August 22: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- September 19: San Francisco
- September 20: San Jose, California
- October 3: Jersey City, New Jersey
- October 17: Denver, Colorado
- November 15: Austin, Texas
You can purchase either VIP or general admission tickets to the Bloody Mary Festival and get more information on each city's event on the festival website.
If you can't wait until the festival, here's the original Bloody Mary recipe you can make at home. While the recipe calls for a lemon slice garnish, we'd love to see what creative additions you make to your Bloody Mary!
Red Snapper (the original Bloody Mary)
- 1 oz. Stolichnaya vodka
- 2 oz. Tomato juice
- 1 dash lemon juice
- 2 dashes salt
- 2 dashes black pepper
- 2 dashes cayenne pepper
- 3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Fill a glass with ice, pour in the vodka and rest of ingredients, then garnish with a lemon slice. If you want to make a big batch of Bloody Mary mix, the St. Regis has its recipe online. Simply mix 1 ounce of vodka with 11 ounces of your homemade mix for one excellent Red Snapper.