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The Red Snapper: A Drink for the Morning After

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Chances are, if you had a drink on New Year's Day, that is if you didn't give up drinking as a New Year's resolution, you had a Red Snapper. "But I had a Bloody Mary," you may respond. "Free! With my brunch!"

Same drink, classier name.

The Bloody Mary could be named for the Queen of England, Elizabeth I's older sister, who had a brief and violent reign. It could be named for the Bucket of Blood Club in Chicago -a tavern on the west side of town. Apparently a bucket of blood would be mopped up at the end of an active night. Yum.

The name of the drink, the origins of the drink, the proper ingredients of the drink, all these are as hazy as things might have been at midnight on December 31st, but one thing is crystal clear. These spicy tomato/vodka combos are a most useful tool for the morning after.

Tomato juice has loads of vitamins that your body craves after a lively night and also has the fructose that helps your body metabolize the alcohol from the night before more quickly. Plus that little bit of alcohol in the Bloody Ma…umm….Red Snapper helps with a reintroduction of ethanol alcohol into your blood stream, diverting your enzymes from their work of torturing you to death with headaches, nausea, and general feelings of worthlessness. Or at least, this is what science says.

Sometime in the 1930s, New Yorker George Jessel combined vodka with tomato juice at a time when vodka was a novelty, and no one else knew quite what to do with it. Thank heavens, George did. Then, Fernand Petiot, bartender at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, took the tomato juice and vodka and went a step further:

“I initiated the Bloody Mary of today,” Petiot claimed in the July 1964 New Yorker. “Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. "

Notice the ratio of vodka to tomato juice. It is one to one rather than the one to three ratio of vodka to mix that you might find in a typical restaurant brunch drink today. I tried Petiot's Bloody Mary Martini with some degree of success with the brunch crowd who do not like tomato juice. Shaken, strained, and poured.

From Harry's in Paris, Fernand Petiot went on to bartend at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, in the celebrated Old King Cole Room, where they still call vodka and spiced tomato juice a Red Snapper.

In one of the first stops in my international tour of Red Snappers, I stopped at the Mill Street Brew Pub, part of Toronto's historic Distillery District - a highly recommended trip for the year 2010. The Distillery District, a Canadian National Historical Site, is the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America, according to its website. Buildings that once housed the largest distillery in the British Empire now host the making of Hollywood movies. In the 1850s, there was rye and rum in the neighborhood. Now there is the filming of blockbusters,  Hairspray and X-Men among other A-list movies having been filmed there.

The brewpub restaurant offered some excellent beers made on location but also had a Caesar on the brunch menu that needed to be sampled. The Caesar is a variation on the Bloody Mary which uses Clamato juice. This is a much more popular drink in Canada than in the U.S. I don't know what the connection between Julius Caesar and clams are, but the clam broth and tomato juice in Clamato is not as noxious a combination as you, you American you, might think. Note the heavy celery salt on the rim and the olive as a garnish.  If there was a clam harmed in the making of this drink, it went unnoticed in the stockade of celery salt.

In traveling from Toronto to Buffalo, mixologically crossing over the border, I tried to emulate the Trattoria Aroma's Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary. In doing so,  I also crossed over the border into Bloody Mary craziness – oh how Francios Petiot would have hated this.

Buffalo Chicken Wing Bloody Mary

2 parts vodka

6 parts V8 juice

4 dashes of worchestershire 

4 dashes of Frank's Hot Sauce

Blue Cheese crumbles to taste

celery salt to taste

Red snapper purists couldn't stand the thought of chewy hunks of horseradish in a Bloody Mary. I don't know what they would have thought of crumbles of blue cheese, but it probably wouldn't be kindly thoughts.

Finally, I stopped at that Arts and Crafts wonder – the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, New York. The Roycroft is an American National Landmark, a 1905 campus for the arts based upon the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustav Stickley. It is a beautiful building and atmosphere – perfect for a vintage cocktail.

There I had a Bloody Mary built as well as its surroundings. At first glance, all the drink looks to contain is tomato juice. It was even suspiciously free of Worcestershire. But the drink had good proportion, modest in profile, but tangy to taste – no excess of horseradish or celery salt floating senselessly through the cocktail. Fernand Petiot would have been pleased.

The Bloody Mary is a common cocktail. There is even a tinge of the blue collar to it. Avowed beer drinkers will admit to a cocktail if it is a morning  Bloody Mary.  Does it even deserve a discussion? After all, champagne mimosas or bellinis are much more fashionable for endless Sunday brunches. But admit it. After a long night of over-imbibing on "brown liquor" cocktails, a mimosa is just not going to make a dent in that bourbon fog. If cocktail time is somewhere between noon and 3 p.m., seasoned tomato juice with a good vodka is peerless.

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About Kate Shea Kennon