If there was an early 20th century analogue to Comedy Central or Saturday Night Live, it would be Vaudeville. This variety show genre mostly consisted of a series of unrelated comedy, burlesque, dancing, magic, and theater acts and drew huge audiences from the early 1900s all the way through the early 1930s.
Among the actors who achieved fame in this genre was George Jessel, who set the standards for the types of over-the-top lifestyles that many current day Hollywood celebrities lead. In one of his three memoirs, Jessel recounts a story about staying up all night drinking at a bar in Florida in 1927, then rummaging around to see what was left to drink the next morning. As the story goes, he combined vodka, spices, and tomato juice and then promptly spilled the beverage on the dress of socialite Mary Brown Warburton, who allegedly reacted by saying, “now you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”
There is widespread speculation as to why this claim to the origin of the Bloody Mary only emerged several decades after it was supposed to have occurred, which casts definite doubt upon Jessels story. But let’s face it: Jessel was an entertainer, and his story definitely has that going for it.
Bloody Mary Variations
In the middle of the 20th century, the Bloody Mary spawned a number of riffs or variations. Most of these either modified the alcohol source, the acid and spice profile, or both. The following represent probably the most popular Bloody Mary variations, most of which remain somewhat popular to this day.
The Red Snapper – Until after World War II, vodka was often scarce in the United States. As such, many chose to use gin in its place. The Red Snapper cocktail is a gin-based Bloody Mary where nothing really changes besides the base spirit. This drink may have been a somewhat unsuccessful re-brand of Petiot’s Bloody Mary, since the owner of the St. Regis Hotel at the time had a wife named Mary and wasn’t fond of the cocktail’s name.
The Caesar – The Caesar is a Bloody Mary variation that deploys clam juice, either as an ingredient in a house-prepared mix, or via a packaged tomato juice product like Clamato. The briny, umami character of the clam juice helps to thin the tomato-based mixer and add depth of flavor to the drink.
The Michelada – The Michelada is a Mexican-style Bloody Mary variation where beer is substituted for vodka. Generally, the citrus component of this beverage is lime (instead of the traditional lemon), and Mexican-inspired spices are often used in the drink or on the rim of the glass.
The Red Eye – The Red Eye can either be viewed as a pared down, beer-based Bloody Mary, or a lazy Michelada with no citrus. It contains beer, tomato juice, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce (or a substitute). The idea of the Red Eye is to be able to assemble it without as much care or finesse as the Bloody Mary, and its generally accepted function is to act as a hangover remedy.