We can’t allow 2021 to pass without raising a glass to one of the great Frenchmen of the 20th century. A votre sante Fernand Petiot! Although you may have died 45 years ago at the immortal cocktail bar in space, the legacy of your contributions to civilisation on Earth will be eternal. 

He was a mystery to me. I have to admit that nor had I, until I read this week that Fernand ‘Pete’ Petiot was the genius mixologist at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris who is credited with having invented the Bloody Mary, exactly a century ago this year. 

Indeed, last night in the French capital, some of the world’s most celebrated maestros of the cocktail shaker were descending on Harry’s Bar to pay homage to this greatest of the great. 

I should make it clear from the outset that as a general rule, I’ve never been much of a one for cocktails. I will happily drink a pint of bitter, or even a glass red wine almost every day. Or if you’re pushed for ideas for my Christmas present, I don’t mind telling you that I do love the occasional treat of a single malt whisky, no water, no ice.

Bloody Mary was supposedly invented 100 years ago in New York by French-born bartender Fernand Petiot (1900-1975)

Bloody Mary, according to legends, was invented by Fernand Petiot (1800-1975), a French-born bartender.


As for those garishly coloured, fantastically overpriced concoctions so beloved of the young — Tequila Sunrises, Sex-on-the-Beaches, Cosmopolitans, Pornstar Martinis, Moscow Mules and the rest — well, you can keep them. Taking hours to prepare, they are just an acute irritation to folk like me, stuck in the queue for the bar behind the show-off who’s ordering them. 

What about a Bloody Mary? Now that’s something quite different. It’s the only cocktail I seriously enjoy — and the only hangover cure I’ve come across, in all my 68 years, that actually works. It’s every overindulging reveller’s friend, and never more so than at this time of year. 

What’s more, we countless members of the Bloody Mary fan club are in pretty distinguished company. I think particularly of Ernest Hemingway, who was a regular at Harry’s Bar during his visits to Paris, along with such luminaries as Ava Gardner, Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Salvador Dali and Marilyn Monroe’s second husband, the baseball player Joe DiMaggio.

 Indeed, some claim that the great American novelist himself gave the cocktail its name, in a barbed reference to his fourth and last wife, Mary Welsh Hemingway, who objected to his heavy drinking. 

As for me, and I suspect for many others, I thought for many years that it was simply named after Mary Tudor, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who earned the nickname Bloody Mary by ordering the torture and burning of Protestant martyrs. 

However, I discovered that Petiot was wrong in his explanation. According to him, the American journalist who questioned him said that the two first customers for whom he had made the drink came from Chicago. There was an American bar called The Bucket of Blood. It employed a waitress everyone called Bloody Mary. 

‘One of the boys said the drink reminds him of Bloody Mary,’ he said. ‘And the name stuck.’ 

It is certain that Hemingway took personal responsibility for the introduction of the drink in Hong Kong by bringing it to his home during his 1941 visit. After the war, he wrote: I believe it ‘did more than any other single factor, except perhaps the Japanese army, to precipitate the fall of that Crown Colony.’ 

He may have meant to say that the Empire of the Sun was too much for everyone in the British garrison. 

Mind you, he may have had a good point if the bar staff looking after our troops in Hong Kong followed Petiot’s original recipe, as it appeared in the 1921 edition of Harry’s ABC Of Mixing Cocktails. For this stipulates equal measures of vodka and tomato juice — a trifle heavy on the spirits, even for an old soak like me.


In my book, we should aim for no more than one part vodka to two parts tomato juice — and even that’s pushing the alcohol content a bit. Otherwise, I reckon the great man’s recipe can hardly be improved upon, 100 years since he formulated it: 

4 teaspoons salt 

2 tablespoons Cayenne Pepper 

2 teaspoons black pepper 

Six teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 

Take half of a lemon and mash it. 

60ml vodka 

60ml tomato juice 

The only essential ingredient missing, if you ask me, is a dash or two of Tabasco — though if I had to pick nits, I’d say that my perfect recipe would specify celery salt, rather than the common-or-garden variety we sprinkle on our chips. 

For that last touch of elegance, I would add that you need to have lots of ice. 

Many people will have different ideas on how to make the perfect Bloody Mary. Some people swear that they add horseradish or distilled vinegar to their Bloody Marys, others say to garnish the drink with bacon or gherkins. This sounds like something anyone would want to try on Boxing Day while suffering from a fatal hangover. Petiot may have stated that “each son has his gout”. 

Although our tastes might differ on certain points, we can all agree that Hemingway was right. I’m thinking of his advice to his friend Bernard Peyton that ideally one should mix a whole jugful of Bloody Marys, because ‘any smaller amount is useless’. 

Speaking for myself, I find it’s only after the second glass that I begin to feel halfway human after overindulging the night before. 

He was right again, I reckon, when he added: ‘For combating a really terrific hangover, increase the amount of Worcestershire sauce — but don’t lose the lovely colour.’ 


I also note that Petiot’s official motivation for creating the Bloody Mary was to enhance the flavor of vodka that had been introduced by Russian refugees fleeing persecution from the Revolution to Paris. 

But I wonder if he also suffered the occasional hangover himself, and recognised his brainchild’s potential as a cure. 

This is because, according to his claim of fame, on June 15, 1925 he set a new drinking record in Paris when he downed a 2-litre beer in only 46.5 seconds. Don’t try this at home. It isn’t as simple as you think. 

The Bloody Mary does more than just cure hangovers. It is also a spirit-based beverage that can be enjoyed in the morning, which I believe sets it apart. 

Indeed, I almost feel virtuous as I reflect that I’m getting at least one of my five-aday fruit and veg from the tomato juice — and another from the stick of celery that goes so beautifully with it. It’s a great deal healthier, anyway, than my usual breakfast of three cups of coffee and five cigarettes. 

But as for every other cocktail ever invented — or at least those involving more than two ingredients — I’d cheerfully ban the lot. 

Indeed, the one and only upside of Chris Whitty’s latest bout of scaremongering is that it seems to be keeping Christmas drinkers away from my local, with their maddening demands for Aperol Spritzes, Mojitos, Mai Tais and Pisco Sours. 

A Bloody Mary is the best choice if you must order a cocktail at a British pub.