The (Un)true Story of the Bloody Mary

Photo by Tj Turner

TThe following is a narrative interpretation of the real-life claims to the rise (or) the invention (or) the discovery of the Bloody Mary. As is often the case with the history of cocktails, evidence suggests these claims are probably wrong.

Drinking tomato juice was all the rage in early 20th-century America, and a Vaudeville comedian named George Jessel was among its biggest fans. In 1927, after a particularly raucous evening violating the decrees of Prohibition with members of society’s elite, George found himself at a hotel bar in Palm Beach, Florida, and rolled the dice on a dusty bottle of potato-based mystery spirit called “vodkee” to spike his beloved tomato juice. 

This mixture was swiftly upended onto the dress of a socialite in town for a political campaign. Her name was Mary and she eloquently made light of the situation. “Now you can call me Bloody Mary,” she exclaimed, hilariously referencing the nickname of Queen Mary I of England, known for murdering religious dissenters. (or) George didn’t name it yet, but started ordering it everywhere he went, including his favorite New York haunt, the 21 Club.

(or) In 1921, Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot was working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris where he first spiked a popular non-alcoholic beverage called the Tomato Juice Cocktail with vodka and added a premade spice mix called “Red Snapper” that totally existed (or) it didn’t.

In Paris, the drink was named for Pete’s girlfriend, Mary (or) for a regular patron who was constantly being stood up by dates, named Mary (or) because a bar patron likened the drink’s appearance to a bucket of blood—the nickname for a violent Chicago bar on Kedzie Avenue (or) Pulaski Road (or) Federal Street (or) Damen Avenue. Bucket of Blood was notorious for its nightly eruptions resulting in blood-filled mop buckets being splashed onto the streets outside. There was a particularly memorable server there named Mary (or) named Molly, but Pete heard it wrong, and the name stuck. 

(or) After Prohibition, the Soviet government began sponsoring vodka parties all over New York. Henry Zbikiewicz, George Jessel’s regular bartender at 21 Club, began serving a vodka/tomato juice cocktail he created for all the city’s coolest social influencers. While Jessel would later claim credit for Henry’s cocktail, it caught the attention of new-to-town bartender named Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot. 

Pete had moved to New York from Paris (or) from Ohio to run the bar program at the St. Regis Hotel where his boss made him change the name before he could put Bloody Mary on the menu (or) where he put his drink called the Red Snapper on the menu (or) where he first learned of a drink consisting of vodka and tomato juice called the Bloody Mary. He thought the drink needed more pizzazz so he combined it with the popular non-alcoholic (but full-of-flavor) Tomato Juice Cocktail created by (or) falsely credited to a food product company in Chicago. 

That is (or) isn’t the real story.

Photo by Tj Turner

Recipe for Ghost of Mary

A ghastly pale, savory day-starter that will take a little prep but is well worth the time.

3 ounces Ghost of Mary mix (recipe below)
1½ ounces vodka
½ ounce lemon juice 
1 teaspoon Cooper’s Leche Diablesa White Hot Sauce

Ghost of Mary mix

Vegan, makes 15 cocktails

1 tablespoon olive oil or rapeseed oil
1 large white or yellow onion, diced
1 large leek, just the white portion, sliced into rings
2 large or 3 small Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup clear tomato water (recipe below)
2 cups oat milk
7 bay leaves

Clear tomato water

Juice 3 large tomatoes in a juicer. Pour the liquid into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Strain through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag. 


Saute onions and leeks for around 15–20 minutes in oil. Add potatoes and saute for another 10 minutes. Add cardamom, white pepper, and salt. Stir well. Add oat milk, tomato water, and bay leaves, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Blend the mixture, strain, and chill overnight.