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The curious case of George Jessel’s “Bloody Mary”

We have our opinions on the true origin of this classic cocktail, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one!

Most people don’t argue that Pete Petiot was the bartender that truly popularized the Bloody Mary, both in Paris at Harry’s Famous New York Bar and stateside as the “Red Snapper” at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. But throughout his lifetime, comedian George Jessel vehemently argued that it was he, not Petiot, who truly invented the famous cocktail in the first place.

Known as the “Toastmaster General of the United States”, Jessel was a larger than life character whose story of how the Bloody Mary came to be was as over-the-top as some of his comedic skits. As recalled in his autobiography, The World I Lived In, Jessel claims it all began after a long night of partying at a restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1927.

At 8 a.m., Jessel was still awake and beginning to nurse a hangover, so he grabbed what he could find from behind the bar—potato vodka, tomato juice and an assortment of spices—and mixed it up together. Just then, socialite Mary Brown Warburton walked in wearing a white gown from the night before and was handed a glass. She immediately spilled it down the front of her dress and exclaimed, “Now you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”

A tall tale for the ages, or the origin of one of America’s great cocktails? It may always remain a mystery, and we’re just fine with that.