Bloody Mary: The Morning Classic

The bloody mary is a brunchtime staple, but some bartenders go out of their way to make sure it’s a cocktail you won’t soon forget

By Micah Drew
The Sitting Duck’s Bloody Mary with the works. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

There are several cocktails that are acceptable to order first thing in the morning, including the classic bloody mary. Often billed as a cure to last night’s overindulgence, the bloody mary packs a pungent punch, conferring it with a reputation as a polarizing drink.  

Like it or lump it, however, the bloody mary has enjoyed an enduring legacy.

According to a history of the drink published in 2012 by Difford’s Guide, the internet’s leading authority on all things quaffable, the bloody mary was born as so many of us are — alcohol-free and in a hospital, where, in the late 19th century, it was prescribed as a cure for mental illness. The earliest iteration of the drink contained tomato juice, Tabasco, lemon juice and oysters. 

In the United States, two names are associated with the creation of the vodka-infused version of the bloody mary popular today. Actor George Jessel supposedly ordered a half-vodka, half-tomato juice recipe in a Florida bar in 1927 to help him outlast a grueling hangover. Meanwhile, a bartender at the St. Regis hotel in New York, Fernand Petiot, is credited with experimenting with the formula for the bloody mary throughout the 1920s, possibly basing the concoction on Jessel’s influence. Petiot added the smorgasbord of ingredients that turned a boozy juice drink into one of the world’s most recognizable cocktails. 

In the 1950s, several newspapers and magazines published accounts of the bloody mary’s rise as a brunch or lunchtime cocktail as “the answer to all next-day worries,” according to “House and Garden Magazine.” It wasn’t long after that celery was considered the best way to stir the drink and became the go-to garnish for a Bloody.   

In today’s social-media age, a cocktail with visual appeal can rule all, and some watering holes take it upon themselves to elevate the bloody mary by literally hanging accoutrements from the rim of a glass, skewering a buffet-line’s worth of toppings with bamboo picks, the sum of whose parts amount to a full meal rather than a mere hangover cure. 

Enter the Sitting Duck, a Flathead Lake fixture located in Wood’s Bay, just south of Bigfork. Over many years, the lakeside bartenders at the Sitting Duck have riffed extravagant variations on the bloody mary, initially as a bingo-night special and now as a bona fide menu staple, though one that’s limited to a three-hour serving window each day. Dubbed simply “The Works,” the Sitting Duck presents its bloody mary with a double-cheeseburger slider, an egg roll, a fried wonton, two shrimp, a strip of bacon, a spear of pickled asparagus, a pepperoncini, a green olive, a salted rim, and a wedge of lime, balanced in such a way as to create a sort of salty, savory, vertically aligned appetizer tray. 

As far as a scientifically proven hangover cure, the bloody mary falls short of peer review. However, there are plenty of non-alcoholic ingredients in this cocktail that might make you feel better. The electrolytes, vitamin C and vitamin B6 found in tomato juice have been shown to reduce the effects of a hangover, while spicy foods are known to promote alertness and clear out stuffed sinuses. Meanwhile, any mass quantity of carbohydrates can increase blood-sugar levels, theoretically alleviating some fatigue and headaches. Pseudoscience aside, ordering a Bloody Mary from your favorite bar can’t hurt, right?

A Bloody Mary from the Spinnaker Casino Bar and Grill in Lakeside. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Bloody Mary Components to Consider

Base Spirit Vodka — any unflavored vodka will work. No need to hit the top shelf, as the plethora of additional ingredients will drown out the subtleties of most spirits. The Flathead Valley’s distilleries all make a local vodka, but for some added flair, try substituting Glacier Distilling’s jalapeno-infused Mule Kick or Whistling Andy’s Moonshine for a whiskey twist on the classic.

Tomato Juice Tomatoes provide a savory, sweet, and slightly tart base from which to begin building the drink.

Savory Splashes Worcestershire is the classic go-to condiment.

Spice A few dashes of hot sauce, horseradish, chili oil or muddled hot peppers will help clear out the sinuses.

Acid Add lemon juice to balance out the complex concoction.

Garnishes Galore Start with celery, but remember: If it fits on a skewer and doesn’t topple the glass, it’s fair game.