The History of the Bloody Mary
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Brian Bartel in his book, The Bloody Mary, said it best “The good news is, the Bloody Mary was invented, the answer to the question of how it originated, however, is a murky one.”
The most popular story, and some say, probably closest to the actual truth, is that the Bloody Mary was invented by a bartender named Fernand "Pete" Petiot in Harry's New York Bar in Paris. Harry's opened in 1911, and was owned by Harry MacElhone. The actual bar at Harry's was from New York City, and was dismantled and shipped to Paris. It became a popular destination for American expats during prohibition.
Petiot was introduced to vodka around 1920, when it was brought to Paris by Russians escaping from the Russian Revolution. The story goes that Petiot found it pretty tasteless, and was trying to give it a little more pizzaz. Around the same time he tried American tomato juice cocktail, and one day he mixed vodka with tomato juice...and the rest is history. He called his new creation Bucket of Blood, and it's said to have been incredibly popular. However, the bar's owner (Harry) published a cocktail book in 1927, and the Bucket of Blood was not mentioned...which is a bit weird if it's as popular as the story says!
Regardless, in 1933, Pete Petiot was brought to New York to run the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel. He brought his cocktail with him, and renamed it the Red Snapper, and started adding spices and citrus. It was a hit, and many toted it as a hangover cure.
But, just like all good cocktail stories, Petiot wasn't the only one who "invented" the drink. A comedian named George Jessel mentioned the drink in a column in the New York Herald Tribune in 1939. He claims he created it after a long night in Palm Beach, and at 8am when he and his friends were still awake, he tried combining his vodka with tomato juice for himself and his friends. He gave one to his friend Mary Brown Warburton, who was wearing a white dress from the night before, which she then spilt the drink down. She said, "Now you can call me Bloody Mary, George."
Now this whole story seems a little suspect, but in an article for the New Yorker Petiot is quoted saying that "Jessel started it, and I finished it", referring to the Bloody Mary, so maybe it was a group effort? It seems undisputed though that the modern day version we know with Worcestershire, spices and citrus is credited to Petiot at the St. Regis.
So, what about the name?
Well, we're not too sure and everyone's memory seems a little fuzzy. However, Petiot said in an interview in 1972 that a customer suggested the name "Bloody Mary" after a waitress. However, when he was serving the drink in New York, he called it the Red Snapper (which you can apparently still order today!).