Smile Politely

Exploring Bloody Marys in C-U, part one

Today we are discussing Bloody Mary. No, not the Bloody Mary who was responsible for the execution of hundreds of Protestants in the name of Catholicism. While she is an extremely interesting, dynamic person of history and I would gladly talk about her for hours if given the option, I am focusing on the beverage that was named after her.

It has been my experience that you either love Bloody Marys or you hate them. Personally I fall in that love range — there is something so wonderful and rich about them that makes me feel like drinking one is doing something beneficial for my health. The peppery quality of the drink revives me whenever I am having a tough day, and I always look forward to trying different varieties.

Back in the 1920s, a man by the name of Fernand Petiot was working in Paris, France at the New York Bar. He claimed to have created the tomato-y concoction, though plenty of others sought credit for it. Tomato juice and vodka had been a standard beverage before, but when Petiot tried his hand at it he realized that it needed something a bit more. He added salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and cracked ice into a shaker, and the end result is pretty much what we have today.

While I love traditional Bloody Marys, I tried to find ones that were different from what you would normally get. Because it is such a particular drink (and perhaps just a touch old fashioned) I thought it would be pretty hard to find places that served them. While some of the places I went to did not offer them, for the most part they were pretty easy to find.

The first place I went to was Watson’s. I love the restaurant’s food and atmosphere, so I was excited to see what they had to offer. I do not know really what I was expecting, but I definitely was not expecting what I got. They called it Shady Mary ($7),  and it was made in a very different way. They used traditional ingredients like the tomato juice and vodka, but they also included pickle brine and served with an actual pickle on top and what tasted like celery salt along the rim. For those who do not like pickles, this would not be the best choice. However, I loved the flavor of the pickle with the tomato juice. There was also a sort of mustard seed quality to it that I thought complimented the vodka extremely well. It was on the whole very delicious, but it was hard to finish the whole thing. While the flavors were amazing, it became increasingly more difficult to drink over time.

The next place I went to was Miga. It was my first time being there, and the space was extremely pleasant and clean. All of the silverware was arranged with extreme care. I had a feeling that I would get a rather traditional experience here, and I was not wrong. It came out and was beautiful to look at, with a lime wedge and green olives ($5). The tomato juice was much more prominent in this drink, and it was nice and spicy. I could also taste the tabasco sauce a lot more in this one. Though it was missing the classic celery stick that would normally come with a Bloody Mary, this was exactly what I was expecting.

The third place I went to was Murphy’s. Despite the fact that I am a Champaign native, I have only been there a few times. Because of its campus location, I thought that perhaps the students did not order them and they would not have them. They did offer them, much to my surprise, and it was extremely affordable at $2.50. What made it really different was that they use Guinness. It was a rather simple, lacking any garnish that would normally accompany a Bloody Mary. I thought it sounded strange and was worried that the tomato juice would not come through, but it was extremely delicious. They made it extra spicy, so it was the first time I really tasted the Worcestershire sauce. This was the first Bloody Mary that I felt would really compliment food, especially steak. I really enjoyed this drink.

Big Grove Tavern was my next stop. I was told by a few people that if I wanted a traditional Bloody Mary, Big Grove was the place to go ($6.50). I was hoping that it would be served with a celery stick, but unfortunately that was not to be. Like the one at Miga, it was served with olives and a lime wedge. Despite this, it was still tasty. The very first thing that hit me was the heat from the tabasco, and secondly the rich tomato flavor. Outside of that, I really did not get much more in flavor. It mostly tasted of tomato juice, which was still tasty but not what I was looking for.

The very last stop was Bentley’s, another first time for me. I always liked the idea of going in there, but it gave off a “regulars” vibe, like I would not truly belong. It was nothing like this, however. Everyone seemed really friendly and the interior is exactly what you would hope for in a pub. The Bloody Mary was also fantastic ($6). They used a special vodka that was infused with jalapeños, garlic, and dill. It also was made with Guinness and served with a lime and olives. The garlic added a texture to the drink that made it dramatically different from all the others. The jalapeño also added a heat that was more mild than I thought it would, making it a very smooth drink that finished well. I had such a good experience that I would definitely like to go again.

I really enjoyed the experience of shopping around to find some cool Bloody Marys, and all of the ones that I had were delicious. If I had to choose my favorite, considering all the variables, I would have to say I really enjoyed the one I had at Murphy’s. It was packed with flavor and was was also the most affordable. I never used to drink them regularly before, but now I might have to make it my new drink!

Photos by Merry Thomas, except Bentley’s Bloody Mary, which is from Facebook. 

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