Cocktail Time – The Bloody Mary

There are nights when even the most seasoned drinker stumbles over a line drawn almost arbitrarily in the sand by some wicked God. Nights which, while they may end in sozzled affection for ones fellow passengers on this ship called Life, inevitably turn to vile morning and the grim prospect ahead.

Kingsley Amis - No stranger to the sherry bottle

Kingsley Amis - No stranger to the sherry bottle

Kingsley Amis was only too familiar with this feeling. A notorious drinker, he was also a serial adulterer, once being photographed comatose on a Yugoslav beach with the legend “One fat Englishman – I fuck anything” scrawled on his back by his wife.

For all his manifold faults, Amis was a truly great writer however. Here is the moment from his first, and most famous novel, Lucky Jim, when the hero of his tale, Jim Dixon, wakes after crossing that arbitrary line in heroic fashion…

He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Jim, of course, has a monumental hangover.

While there are a number of drinks that claim to have restorative, morning-after powers, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the others, both in terms of effect and reputation. The Bloody Mary is that legendary beverage, partly due to its glorious name, but mainly due to the combination of cure, tomato juice, mixed with poison, more booze.

The “hair of the dog” is the expression most used to describe this kind of medicine. An ancient phrase, it stems from the belief that like cures like. If you were bitten by a dog, a few hairs from the beast, bound up in the wound, would help it heal. The first usage found in reference to hangovers can be found in John Heywood’s Proverbs (1546)…

“I  pray thee let me and my fellow have a heare of the dog that bit us last night and bitten were we both to the braine aright”

As ever with cocktail history, the origin of the drink is in some dispute. Fernand Petiot, a bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, claims to have been the first to serve the drink in 1920. He moved to New York in 1925 and eventually took up residency at the St Regis Hotel, New York, from where the recipe spread.

The other claim is from George Jessel. Jessel was a actor/singer songwriter and academy award winning movie producer. He was also famous as a comedy entertainer and raconteur, earning himself the nickname of “Toastmaster General of the United States”.


Someone once said of Jessel, "That son of a bitch started to reminisce when he was 8 years old".

Someone once said of Jessel, "That son of a bitch started to reminisce when he was 8 years old".

He certainly enjoyed his status, having numerous affairs with young starlets, and becoming one of the founding members of the Beverly Hills Friars Club.

He also, clearly, felt the Bloody Mary was his creation, posing in 1956, for this Smirnoff Poster that carried the unequivocal declaration, “I George Jessel, invented the Bloody Mary”.


Perhaps Jessel was the originator, the NY Herald Tribune printed this on 2nd Dec 1939…

George Jessel’s newest pick-me-up which is receiving attention from the town’s paragraphers is called a Bloody Mary: half tomato juice, half vodka.

Or, perhaps, Jessel had merely helped popularise the Bloody Mary and, eventually took the credit for it.

Petiot had the last, albeit ambiguous, word on the subject in an interview in The New Yorker in 1964.

George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I 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; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour.”

No matter who its inventor was, the Bloody Mary has now grown, like all great drinks, to represent something more than just the sum of its ingredients. Just as the phrase, “Tonight, I am drinking Champagne” suggests an evening of joy and celebration, so the words, “This morning, I am drinking a Bloody Mary” hints at the desperate struggle to survive.

And for that… Monsieur Petiot or Mr Jessel, we salute you.

And so, in the footsteps of Fernand Petiot, let us mix his original…

The Bloody Mary

Add salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and Worcestershire sauce to shaker

Add 2 parts Vodka

Add 4 parts Tomato Juice

Shake and strain into chilled glass.

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3 Responses

  1. And tabasco on the side! Yuuuuuumm!

  2. Beautifully composed Dr.

  3. Aaaaah. Almost worth working up a hangover for…

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