Photograph by Craig Cutler
If you're going to drink at breakfast, you'd better make it count. While the Bloody Mary—a classic adaptation of the gin-based Red Snapper, which made its way from Paris to New York in the thirties—remains the gold standard of morning jolts, the average specimen goes down like dreary penance. But day-shift bartenders are now opening eyes with their improvisations. They're swapping vodka for tequila, aquavit, and cachaça, ditching tomato juice in favor of fresh-squeezed heirloom extract and muddled grape tomatoes, spicing things up with Old Bay and harissa, and tossing in unlikely garnishes like beef jerky, smoked oysters, and pickled okra—all of which makes brunch itself seem a little beside the point. Rob Willey
THE BEST NEW ONES TO ORDER
1. Bacon Bloody Mary at Sepia
123 North Jefferson Street, Chicago, 312-441-1920
In an innovation at once startling and inevitable, bacon-infused vodka steps in for the plain old stuff, joining spiced tomato juice, maple syrup, and liquid smoke. The garnish is cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon.
2. Holy Water at Florida Room
435 North Killingsworth Street, Portland, Oregon, 503-287-5658
The newest addition to the Church of the Bloody Mary Sunday brunch menu, this lean-but-potent spirit-raiser consists of house-made tomato water, a pour of vodka, pickled green beans, and a lime.
3. Chicago Matchbox at Prune
54 East 1st Street, New York, 212-677-6221
A stiff slug of zesty homemade lemon vodka gets this cocktail going, but the garnish is what keeps it humming: a menagerie of pickled brussels sprouts, baby turnips, green beans, radishes, and caper berries.
4. Bobo Mary at Bobo
181 West 10th Street, New York, 212-488-2626
Aquavit, a zesty caraway-flavored spirit from Scandinavia, might do its best work in a Bloody Mary, paired here with cucumber juice, fresh horseradish, and (for acidity) a splash of passion-fruit puree.
5. Real Maria at Absinthe
398 Hayes Street, San Francisco, 415-551-1590
Made with celery- and black-pepper-infused tequila, heirloom-tomato juice, and a peppered sherry-vinegar gastrique (in place of Worcestershire sauce), this one sounds like a riff but tastes like a full-on reinvention.
THE INGREDIENT: CELERY BITERS
Making a first-rate Bloody Mary requires more than vodka, tomato juice, and Tabasco. But before you go messing around with infusions and pickled garnishes, consider a simple solution: celery bitters. A few dashes of this spicy, vegetal elixir—an old-school bar staple recently revived by the German liquor company The Bitter Truth—will give your recipe the kind of boost that creates a following.