Koktail Kicks: Bloody Mary

Koktail Magazine

27 Oct 2022

Your weekly spill-all on classic cocktails—their origin stories, their ingredients, and why we love them

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary—legend has it, if you chant the phrase repetitively while looking into a mirror, an apparition of Bloody Mary will appear… drenched in blood. “Mary” here refers to Queen Mary I of England who received the unshakable title ‘Bloody Mary’ after notoriously ordering 300 protestants to be burned at the stake.

So what’s a cocktail got to do with this devil-daring lore and who is credited as the inventor of this blood-coloured drink?

The elixir actually has two origin stories. The first account details a young bartender by the name Fernand Petiot, who was thought to be the first to mix the base ingredients of tomato juice and vodka for what we currently know as Bloody Mary. Petiot created the drink in the 1920s while working at the prolific Harry’s New York Bar (despite the name, the bar is actually situated in Paris). When Petiot eventually migrated to New York, he took the recipe with him. Unfortunately, the locals were not fans of the then simplistic drink. To match his new customer’s palate, the bartender spiced the cocktail up with hot sauce, salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Once New Yorkers got hooked, so did the rest of the world.

The other name tied to this ruby refreshment is that of the Broadway star, George Jessel. In his autobiography titled The World I Lived In!, the actor recounts his iconic concoction while spending time in Palm Beach in 1927. Following a celebratory drinking session, Jessel was desperate to find a hangover cure. When a bartender handed him an old bottle of vodka that smelled like “rotten potatoes”, his creative juices started flowing. Jessel ended up blending Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice and lemon to get rid of the original pungent notes. To the actor’s amazement, the questionable ingredients miraculously worked well together and also succeeded in clearing his head!  Later, Jessel’s acquaintance, Mary Brown Warburton, joined the drinking circle and accidentally spilled it down her white gown. Laughing, she said, “Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!” And that’s how Jessel’s version of the cocktail was born.

Though the beverage is quite the marmite of cocktails, with its spicy and savoury flavours, there is no harm in trying one out (unless you decide to sip it while conjuring Mary’s spirits). A perfect toast to Halloween, order a Bloody Mary for a bloody good time.