Hail Mary

It's not a cocktail before noon, it's a restorative meal in a glass

The Bloody Mary was my granny's signature drink. Before she died, when she was in town my father would mark the occasion by mixing up a mean one using entirely pedestrian ingredients like V8, liberal amounts of Tabasco (she lived in the South, so she could handle the heat), fresh black pepper, and a stick of celery. It was tasty enough, especially when enjoyed while chatting on the deck. And yet not until recently did it ever occur to me to order a Bloody Mary when venturing out.

I tried it earlier this fall in what I'd call a blitz--you can't binge on Bloody Marys, they're too much like actual food--and after many rounds I emerged, bionic liver intact, to share what I learned on my voyage. You'd think this would be obvious, but first, remember that Bloody Marys are best consumed at either breakfast or brunch. There's something vaguely naughty about drinking before noon, and they just go better with breakfast food.

Second, if the Bloody Mary isn't featured on a restaurant's drink menu or if your server doesn't nod knowingly when you ask about it, don't bother--it's probably not worth it. Servers tend to know when their bartender can mix up a badass concoction.

Lastly, and most importantly, a good Bloody Mary should somehow be simultaneously classic yet distinct from one ordered at any other bar. When I was first assigned to write about the drinks, I was concerned about how much variety I was going encounter--would things get redundant after the first few rounds? How varied could a drink that uses something as dominating as tomato juice for a base be?

It's true that in a month of sampling Bloody Marys, I ordered many that faded from memory before the vodka even ran its course. But there were also a surprising number of bars and restaurants where the cocktail was magically different. Much like infused vodka in a martini or fresh lime in a margarita, carefully selected ingredients and their proportions drastically change the flavor, consistency, and weight of a Bloody Mary. Add pickled vegetables and you have a heavier drink fit for any hangover breakfast. Throw some ice into California tomato juice and you have a summertime drink as refreshing as a glass of lemonade.

 

CHATTERBOX PUB

What happens when kitsch creates a love child in your parents' basement, circa 1982? Why, the Chatterbox Pub, of course! Dimly lit with pink fur-lined lamps, cluttered walls plastered with lunch boxes and posters, old armchairs and couches where you can try to beat friends at Atari or vintage Nintendo, board games, and mounted TVs (often featuring cartoons of the Hanna Barbera oeuvre): This would be the coolest finished basement in town, if it were in a basement. And, in the spirit of Dad's fully stocked rec-room bar, you can order up just about any mixed drink popular among working-class guys.

This Bloody Mary is served in a pint glass; with a chaser it feels as though the Bloody Mary is the meal and the beer is the drink. Of all the selections I sampled, this one was the hottest. It's spicy enough to clear your sinuses while pleasantly warming your chest cavity. It also has an overall pickled taste, which matches the drink's side dish: a skewer containing pickled and marinated artichokes, a meat stick, pickles, olives, and red pepper. Don't let the heat factor deter you from trying this one: Alternating sips between a beer back of Chatterbox's own lager (pleasantly mild and comparable to Leinenkugel's or Sam Adams) or nibbling on appetizers like crispy potato balls keep the heat in check.

CHATTERBOX PUB, 2229 E. 35th St., Minneapolis; 612.728.9871

 

UPTOWN BAR AND CAFÉ

Once a local haunt for visiting rock stars, Uptown Bar & Café is still a super-popular greasy spoon. Inside you'll find booths and wooden stools; outside is primo real estate for people-watching in the busy Calhoun Square area. Order a Bloody Mary and you'll get a pint rimmed with celery salt, lots of ice, a dill pickle wedge, and the obligatory beer. At first taste the Uptown's take on the blend is salty, but after a few sips it becomes more refreshing. Also, despite the pickle garnish, this is very much a tomato Bloody Mary. It's expertly mixed--three out of four people I dined with couldn't taste the vodka, but I could sure feel it about a quarter of the way through.

Don't worry about getting too tipsy; this Mary is light enough to allow room for a half-serving of hash browns (roughly the size of a Harry Potter novel) or a plate of eggs topped with visually repulsive but secretly delicious vinyl Yellow No. 5 cheese. To sweeten the deal, the diner gives patrons the option of keeping the glass, which is a rite of passage in some circles. (Be sure to plan ahead and bring cash--they don't take credit cards, and the ATM, which appears to be from the mid-'80s, charges about $1.50 per transaction.)

UPTOWN BAR AND CAFÉ, 3018 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.823.4719; www.uptownbarandcafe.com

 

FUJI-YA

So, when making a list of places that offer great Bloody Marys, sports and dive bars that serve breakfast probably come to mind first, not sushi restaurants. While Fuji-Ya doesn't offer a classic Mary, I'll give it points for playing off the original without being gimmicky. Fuji-Ya's take includes sushi-related ingredients such as soy sauce, garlic and ginger purees, and a bit of wasabi for heat. Oh, and it's tasty too; this isn't merely a stunt or a cruel joke to play on trendsters willing to drop a pretty penny to ride the cool wagon. The garlic puree doesn't overwhelm the rest of the drink, while the more chunky ginger puree allows for occasional bursts of refreshing and palate-cleansing flavor. The drink is light and goes great with just about anything on the menu. Depending on the whim of the bartender, the Bloody Mary may be served up with a lime wedge, a fat olive, or speared bits of salmon roll.

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