I’ve had a lifelong love affair with The Bloody Mary. As a novice drinker, I tried ordering a Tom Collins but the club bartender snapped back, “A Tom Collins? REALLY? Here’s a Dewar’s and water; it’s what your father drinks.” So a Bloody was a respectable drink that didn’t taste much like alcohol and was hearty in the absence of snacks. “The cocktail and hors d’oeuvre in one,” I’ve always called it.
As I grew older, I pursued the ultimate Bloody with passion. I experimented with many recipes. The first were “kitchen sink” recipes that relied as much on the quantity of ingredients as on their nature. At one time, Campbell’s made V-8 with clam juice that made for a pretty impressive variation; up until then I’d tried splashes of clam juice and Old Bay Seasoning when going in that direction. And then of course, there’s beef broth. Once you’ve tried this, it’s hard to go back. It’s what makes the Bloody a meat drink.
Plenty of people found my obsession a little annoying. At every nightclub I worked in, I’d try to get them to up their game in the Bloody department. “Why do you use that crappy Mr & Mrs. T’s–they’re for airline Bloody Marys,” I’d complain derisively. Usually the club owners would tell me to stick to my parties or art or promotion and leave the bars to them, and reminded me Mr. & Mrs. T’s lasted a long time in the well. Sometimes, I’d take cans of beef broth into establishments where I was the only person who’d ever order a Bloody Bull. A few places made great ones–Orso and Maple Drive in Los Angeles, for example; but the Bloody Mary at Bix in San Francisco got me back to the basics: tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, salt and pepper, and good (not great) vodka. It forms the basis for my own recipe:
- 4 oz. Tomato juice
- 4 oz. Beef broth
- Tabasco to taste
- Worcestershire sauce to taste
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
- 1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
- 2 oz. vodka
Shake or stir ingredients vigorously. Strain through ice into small old-fashioned or big martini glass. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Consume immediately.
A Bloody Mary starts with tomato juice. Would that I had my grandmother’s recipe (and a lot of time on my hands) for that; she used to make it herself. She’d cook it up on the stove and bring it over from York to Lancaster where I grew up. It would have been perfect for Bloodies–it was thin, but very flavorful with a baked tomato taste. Trouble was, she put the tomato juice up in old liquor bottles. We could index the Owings family spirits consumption on the basis of these deliveries. Like most things, this embarrassment of quality made me pine for the most processed versions of it–Clamato, V-8, etc. but I got over it.
So bringing us up to the present day, I haven’t had a Bloody Mary rock my world since Bix, until last night, when some my wife, some friends and I visited Street in Los Angeles, “Two Hot Tamales” chef Susan Feniger’s first solo operation without her partner Mary Sue Milliken. There, I had ordered a glass of Provençal rose, but noticed a plain bottle behind the bar with a tiny profile of a pig fixed to the bottle with cellophane tape. I learned this was at the heart of Street’s BLT Bloody Mary. Susan infuses her vodka with real bacon essence right on the premises. The bacon craze has spawned some pretty nasty things (bacon mints or licorice, anyone?), but I believe in using all parts of what Homer Simpson called the miracle animal. (I’m actually becoming conflicted about this as, as much as I love “the other white meat,” pigs have an impossible, pet-like cuteness and demonstrated intelligence that makes eating them seem, well, mean, and I might have to stop at some point in the future).
Street’s bacon vodka is subtle, smoky, natural-tasting on its own and a smash in the BLT Bloody. I normally don’t like really thick juice but Street’s mix actually clings to the big Romaine lettuce leaf garnish for a very satisfying, bacony, crunchy, meaty snack to accompany the drink. The latter has flecks of fresh red chiles and actual bits–globules, I might say–of bacon fat and bacon bits in it.
There’s as many Bloody Mary recipes as there are shoes in Imelda Marcos’ old closet, but 2009 was the 75th anniversary of the vaunted drink (invented at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in New York, it’s said) and the hotel published twenty of their favorites–one required 24 hours’ notice. I couldn’t find the actual recipes easily, but there’s a New York Post article which identifies a number of them here:
So this Valentine’s Day, raise a loving toast with a drink that’s red for the special occasion–and nothing says “I love you” like bacon!