“If it lacks authority, add more vodka,” those are Ernest Hemingway’s instructions while mixing his preferred Bloody Mary. Hemingway understood New Orleans.
It’s Bloody Mary Season in New Orleans
The Classic Cocktail Enamored By Locals
Some might say Fall marks the arrival of Bloody Mary season in New Orleans—at least for me anyway. I find the Bloody Mary too heavy for the humid southern summer, but curiously sublime when temperatures drop or are supposed to drop.
Come late September or October, this staple of the brunch bunch becomes the staple of many a tailgate or pre-game party.
First off, I must admit I hate tomato juice. I seriously loathe and despise the very idea of it. That includes V8 and even the spicy V8, but a Bloody Mary is another animal altogether. There’s something about the heavily seasoned, spice-laden libation that arouses the appetite.
Perhaps vodka ups the ante. “If it lacks authority, add more vodka.” Those are Ernest Hemingway’s instructions while mixing his preferred Bloody Mary. Hemingway understood New Orleans.
Bartenders, both professional and not so, tend to be very particular in their preparations regarding this specific cocktail, and it’s no surprise that New Orleans leads the way in flavor and involved preparations.
Uptown’s Blood Mary Alley
An Uptown round-up includes Magazine Street’s Apolline Restaurant which serves a Deluxe Bloody Mary with a freshly baked bacon breakfast biscuit perched loftily above the tomato juice and vodka. Additional garnishes include a boiled shrimp, spicy bean, okra, celery, olives, and even more bacon.
La Petit Grocery offers the Big Red Hammer aka their Bloody Mary. It contains house-mix, poached shrimp, Blue Crab, and house pickled vegetables. The presentation resembles gazpacho and is served with a fork.
Jacques-Imo’s on Maple also garnishes their spicy Bloody Mary with several mouths full of vegetable and boiled shrimp. Magazine bars such as Le Bon Temps Roule and the Bulldog have their own substantial Bloody Mary following. Upriver from Canal Street, The Ruby Slipper Café, The Standard, and Commander’s Palace offer popular versions. Commander’s prepares theirs with my favored pepper-infused vodka and more than a dash of both Tabasco and Crystal hot sauces.
The self-service Bloody Mary bars at Uptown’s Cafe’ Atchafalaya and the Bywater’s Country Club Restaurant offer an array of ingredients and toppings that are must stops for fans of the cocktail. Daisy Duke’s offers a bottomless version and, like a few other places, have taken to perching a boiled crawfish on the rim of their drink.
Straying Across Parish Lines
If you’re willing to cross the parish line along River Road, The Rivershack Tavern’s River Bottom Bloody Mary was touted by Garden & Gun magazine as one of the South’s best. Further along, into River Ridge, the Shimmy Shack offers a Bloody Mary tower of garnishes that include the usual plus a bit of the unusual: pepperoni, bacon, peppers, onions, a wasabi-stuffed olive, a pretzel, a cheese cube, a miniature wiener with a green onion hat and the occasional king cake baby riding shotgun.
As for my personal Bloody Mary quest, it extends to planning a pilgrimage to Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana. I’ve also heard marvelous things regarding a blackened roasted tomato Bloody Mary somewhere in Acadiana.
Bloody Mary Recipes, Musings, and Particulars
My go-to Bloody Mary mix is prepared early the day before with adequate time for the flavors to meld. Whether termed the Creole Bloody Mary or the Cajun Bloody Mary, we can agree it must be full-bodied, flavorful, and pack respectable heat. I serve mine with Tito’s vodka, but some prefer gin, and I’ve even sampled a tequila Bloody Mary. Pro-Tip: add crushed black peppercorns to your vodka a few weeks ahead, then strain with a coffee filter the night before and chill.
For entertaining, I prepare eight two-quart batches that use half regular and half spicy V8 as a base (never plain tomato juice). The mix requires oodles of equal parts fresh lemon and lime juice, heaping horseradish, smashed garlic cloves, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, and more than adequate Tabasco. My dirty version includes olive juice. The above works for oyster shots, too, but add even more horseradish and Tabasco—if that’s possible.
As with all foods NOLA, we hold steadfast to our loyalties. For every Boscoli spicy bean and Creole onion aficionado, there’s a neighbor who insists on smoked bacon, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncini, pickled mirliton, and a pantry full of other pickled and not so pickled garnishes lined up on the bar.
My garnishes are simple, but then I usually cook for a crowd. One full fresh lime wedge, a skewer of alternating Vermouth soaked olives and spicy marinated okra, and an oven-roasted sweet red pepper, plus the ubiquitous but mandatory crisp celery stalk (leaves attached). A necessary personal caveat is a chilled glass rimmed in Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning mix—après Twelfth Night, a Mardi Gras cup is de rigueur.
In a pinch, I once served a Muffaletta Bloody Mary blended with olive salad and garnished with skewers of spicy salami rolls, buffalo mozzarella, olives, and local pickled cauliflower – it proved a hit.
What’s your favorite incarnation of the Bloody Mary?
Share your tips, stories and recipes below.