I have never met a “classic” cocktail without some sort of questionable history. Someone, somewhere claims to have invented a combination of one thing and another, and then, a year or so later, another person comes out with a revolutionary new drink. The Bloody Mary is no different, and at times, a little more confusing.
Once upon a time in 1926 France, American (or sometimes French) bartender, Fernand Petiot was working at Harry’s New York Bar in France. He mixed up a drink of equal parts vodka and tomato juice. (Supposedly) one of his American ex-patriot customers said the drink reminded him of a waitress from a bar back in Chicago called The Bucket of Blood Club, and suggested he call it “Bloody Mary.” In 1934, good old “Pete,” as his friends called him, returned to the US, and brought his creation to the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in New York City. It was redubbed, “The Red Snapper” due to the vulgarity of its original name (hmmmm, really, red snapper is less offensive?), but the new name didn’t stick. It was at the St. Regis that Pete started spicing up the drink, making it the pallet enticer it is today.
But wait just a gol’darn tootin minute! Way back in 1927 (or 1939, or 195something), good old comedian George Jessel was trying to make his mind less cluttery one morning, and combined the nutrient rich breakfast favorite tomato juice with another breakfast staple, vodka. I guess he had a lady friend named Mary over, and she spilled some on her shirt, cuz the legend says she gleefully exclaimed “Now, you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”
The Jessel story is supported by the fact that he appeared in multiple Smirnoff ads claiming the Bloody Mary as his invention; however, apparently Jessel tended to be a bit of a story teller, so it’s possible he was just riding the bandwagon to get a good payday.
But then, Petiot himself gives credence to both stories. In 1964, he is quoted in the New Yorker saying, “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today. 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.”
I think Petey was just being nice.