TOMATO JUICE VODKA SOUL
TOO BLOODY LATE
The Reno, Logan Square
A Tuesday night in March
"Who orders a bloody at 10 pm?," JR grumbled as he picked up a container of thick red liquid. This time, surprisingly, I wasn't the culprit.
"You order a bloody when you wake up drunk or when you wake up and want to get drunk", he announced with 'duh' matter-of-factness. Normally I hate putting a time limit on things, but in this case I agree.
Seasoned bartender that he is, JR begrudgingly made the drink.
He took out a pint glass and filled it with ice and Russia's finest. Then he poured in the Reno's house-made mix, which sat on top of the liquor like sludge before trickling down in red gashes.
"Make it a bloody you have to floss after," my friend David suggested. Sure enough, JR dunked bacon and a fat melon slice into the drink along with cheese curds and a heaping spoonful of pickled vegetables, then he layered slices of salami, more pickles and a fat, queen-sized olive. Finally, he gave his masterwork a massive lime masthead and dusted the whole shebang with rock salt and bacon bits.
"It doesn't need a side of beer, it needs a side of salad dressing," David quipped.
With that JR's face split open into a grin wide enough to cross the bartender-patron divide and we all chuckled at the inside joke. Even the waitress shook her head as she put the drink on her tray.
We were out of ear and eyeshot of the table so we just settled back into our taps, tonics and trivialities. Tonight I didn't need to drink a bloody to enjoy one.
THE GIN TRILOGY
Round 1: Bloody Holidays
My Mom's Condo
December 25, 2013
My mother didn't have a Christmas Tree, so she made me one.
First she laid down a red base, a velvety-thick tomato puree doused with lemon and Worcestershire. Then she poured in pine needles from a plastic jug of Bowman's Gin. She lit up my tree with hot sauce and decorated the rim with jumbo shrimp. Then she topped off the whole concoction off with a skewer of olives.
Some people open up presents on Christmas Morning, but this year my mom and I drank 'em down.
Round 2: Bloody Substitution
A cold Chi-berian afternoon in January
One unexpected result of this Winter's infamous Polar Vortex: cocktail experimentation!
Lacking my favorite pale Russian, I make my bloody with a hearty pour from a bottle of Seagram's. The gin stings, like the quick, smart snap of a rubber band to the tongue followed by a million tingles. They call this the Red Snapper, and its one of many bloody variations including:
Bloody Maria = Tequila
Bloody Bull = Beef Stock
Bloody Caesar = Clam Juice
Bloody Molly: Irish Whiskey
Bloody Leroy: Barbecue sauce instead of tomato juice.
I will probably try them all. In the meantime, here are a few hibernation-induced concoctions of my own:
Bloody Seppuku = Soy Sauce
Bloody Maria's Chunky Sister = Pureed Salsa
The Down & Dirty = Lots of olive juice
Moldy Mary = Miso Paste
Bloody Hipster = Siracha (Also works with PBR)
Mary Ann's Revenge = Minced Ginger
If the weather keeps up, there will be many, many more.
Round 3: The Orange Backlash
I scuffle into Scofflaw to meet my friend Caren. She's in the corner drinking the Liar’s Tale, a bourbon-ginger cocktail that, judging by Google, they invented.
I order the Red Snapper, their bloody bluntly described as "gin, tomato, spice, meat & cheese." After a bit, the waitress brings me a highball glass filled with orange-colored slush – accented by a matching cheddar cube and a gherkin.
It looks like an Orange Julius for adults I think. Then I take a sip.
My eyes widen. My face freezes in a silent scream à la Munch and the only tale I can tell consists of frantic hand gestures. Eventually vowels spill out like white lies. I stir the drink to melt the ice, but it lessens the sting only slightly. This red snapper is one hell of a fish.
Mind you, its fucking delicious. The mysterious "spice" mixture has a depth as complex as it is sharp. The overall effect is less tomato than tang, and it leaves me feeling freshly squeezed.
Eventually, my tongue gets used to the lashing and my friend and I trade tales well into the afternoon.
A BLOODY RIOT
The Bad Apple
North Center, Chicago
Sunday 9/15/13, 1:30pm
It’s Riot Fest weekend.
Friday: Joan Jett sang with the black hearts, while Danzig growled with a pot belly, platform shoes and overcompensating biceps.
Saturday: Guided By Voices inspired, Blondie teased and Flavor Flav dedicated the Public Enemy set to Trayvon Martin and Michael Jackson. And he meant it.
Sunday...Peter Hook may be seeing the light but I’m not.
So I'm opting for my own internal riot fest,
Where I have front row seats and the bands are always in peak form.
I grab a stool by the window of the Bad Apple and order a bloody. The drink is the liquid equivalent of Pavarotti fronting a mariachi band.
It consists of:
Horseradish infused vodka, made in house.
Fresh bloody mix, bog-thick with herbs, chili and chipotle
A Miller High Life on the side, like a roadie
One sip and the heat in my throat wells up like an impending chorus. I sway side to side on the barstool and close my eyes – my band is on fire.
It plays on for 12 full ounces, until I take my last few sips and spit out the pits. Then I too fade away, leaving the wreckage of my performance behind.
BLOODY FULL OR BLOODY EMPTY?
Heaven on Seven
Rush & Ohio
Friday 8/9/13 12:00 Sharp
The week ran over me like a semi. So I swapped my usual 7-Eleven brew and went to “Heaven on Seven” for a Bloody Mary. (“Oh, Thank Heaven…”)
I got “Jimmy’s New Orleans Bloody Mary.” [See Jimmy below.] Made with Siracha, fresh horseradish, and extra spicy tomato juice made on site. (Not bad for a place nestled between Marshall's and Homegoods.)
This place obviously hung their hat on heat. Even the all-green garnish was capped off with a fresh jalapeno pepper. And true enough, each sip went down like a fiery bullet.
It was a bit of heaven in a week that felt like purgatory’s lobby, where you’re not sure what’s coming or how long it’ll last. And the magazine selection sucks. But next time I’m there, I know where to find the refreshment stand.
I shuffle to the cupboard and grab a glass thick enough to survive my extra thumbs.
A bottle of Zin Zang mix, my standard,
A jar of horseradish,
And all the ritualistic trappings of
I slam a jar of olives onto the counter and open the freezer...
There are a few lingering drops of Smirnoff No. 21
and my roommate's vodka…that's flavored like birthday cake.
The fucking nerve.
The right side of Theater 2, midway back
7/21/13, 6 pm
I love a bit of exorcism on Sunday. So my friend and I went to see a matinee of "The Conjuring."
I expected blood on the screen, not in my hand. But the martini icon on the front door told me I'd have both – courtesy of The Rhythm Bar, cocktails available only to ticket holders. And yes, you can take your drink inside the theater.
This conjures up all sorts of cinematic concoctions.
The Godfather: Vodka and Spaghetti Sauce
The Duplicity: A Bloody served in V8 bottle
The Harry Potter: A Bloody on dry ice
But I got the signature. They used Major Peter's, America's most "flavourful" mix, doused with pepper vodka and hot sauce, then poured into a plastic cup. For a reasonable $7.50. (Apparently movie theater markup doesn't apply to cocktails.)
Between the drink and the movie I tingled from head to toe. There were little girls and ghost stories. Old houses and older priests. Demons and dolls.* But this was no midnight fairy tale, it was "based on a true story".
Funny how a hint of truth is all we need. That if you close your eyes and look hard enough, anything is believable. Even a damn good Bloody Mary in a movie theater in suburban Chicago.
THE QUEEN MARY
A Spring Sunday, around 2pm
"The best food in the world," said the menu.
You've gotta respect a place that has balls. My companion and I were at Glen's Diner in Ravenswood. It's somewhat of a seafood destination, but has a neon sign that say's "cereal" in the window and a shelf of General Mill's finest inside. Surprisingly, the seafood is good, and having a brother who is a lifelong fisherman by trade I'm particular about such things.
But my catch of the day didn't share chalkboard space with the Tazmanian King Salmon, Walleye Pike or 14 other kinds of fish that make up the biggest list in Chicago. It was right in front of me.
My Bloody Mary of course.
They brought it out with a skewer of shrimp at the mast.
Rimmed with course salt the color of sand.
It was a pale red, half tomato juice, half sea water.
With minimal horseradish and no hot sauce to speak of,
I swallowed it in large mouthfuls.
Like the man with me,
It went down nice and easy.
The Remedy Diner
Saturday 1/5/13, 2pm
It's my last weekend in Raleigh before heading out to Chicago.
So amidst an afternoon of packing, I stop in to the Remedy Diner for my favorite drink. Their slogan: "A cure for what ails you" and bloodies are $5 on special.
It comes in a highball glass for class,dusted with Chesapeake Bay Seasoning- the salt and pepper of the sea where I come from. The garnishes are minimal, but appropriate:
A lemon wedge straddling the rim,
A single celery stalk, trimmed of all romantic entanglements.
And a queen-sized olive
big and ripe all on her own.
VODKA LOOKING FOR A FREEZER
Saturday 5/11/13, 12:38pm
I was in between apartment viewings and the amenities were running together like drunken adjectives.
So I stopped into the Rail. A “Traditional Sports bar and grill”
But they had $4.50 Bloody Mary's. And I had a half hour to kill and an empty stomach. So I entered a sea of polished wood, large screen TV’s nd a Bloody Mary bar stocked like a grocery store shelf. We’re talking 30 varieties of hot sauce and seven kinds of Bloody Mary Mix all lined up beneath 25 taps. The wall behind it looked like a pipe organ full of gleaming liquor bottles. But my personal rapture was stunted when I saw the garnishes.
Lemon and orange wedges
And one flaccid plate of celery
It was a stark and disappointing contrast to the spread of liquor before me.
“Is that all I’m looking for,” I thought, “the basics? Or something more?” That spear of pickled okra, dusting of Chesapeake Bay Seasoning or artfully arranged Jerky strip that becomes the piece de resistance….
For a concoction you can call your own.
United Flight 333, Chicago to Baltimore
Seat 23 F
Thursday 4/18/13, 11:30am
I usually get a can of mix and a Smirnoff mini – for a price.
This time I got a plastic cup, 4-6 oz tops, for free.
The mix was good, with hints of all the right flavors, and enough liquor to compensate for the lack of embellishment.
But like my weekend jaunt, it was just a tasting.
The Admiral’s Cup
Saturday 4/20/13, 2 pm
My friend Susan lives in Hampden, a place it’s most famous resident, John Waters, called an “uneasy mixture of redneck culture and hipster culture, which I love.”
He forgot the crabs.
The derelict buildings that dot the streets like mosquito bites.
And the beautiful contrast of old warehouses by the sea.
That’s where we were on Saturday. We walked the coast for hours, and then decamped at an agreeable, if slightly touristy looking café. Their house gazpacho comes topped with an ice cream scoop full of fresh crab, which I couldn’t resist. So I ordered my tomato juice two ways. (FYI: They should sell spoonfuls of crab on everything, even ice cream. It’s that good.)
But there were no crab claws dangling over the edge or a skewer of smoked sausage and pickled what-not’s sticking out of my drink. This bloody was classic. Thick but smooth. With just the right balance of tomato juice and vodka and horseradish and lemon and Worcestershire and more vodka and Old Bay and three massive olives the size of the ships outside.
I alternated between mouthfuls of salsa-soaked crab and my cocktail. Extending each to it's absolute limit.
It was last meal worthy.
THE EMPTY MARY
The Empty Bottle
Sunday 4/14/13, 4pm
The Empty Bottle, a comfortably dive-y bar and music venue, allowed 40 independent publishers and presses to fill its rickety wooden tables one Sunday afternoon, a time when it's usually just empty.
I ordered a Bloody Mary and the bartender raised her eyebrows, then came back an eternity later with a pint glass sized pour. A small gherkin floated at the top like a bloated minnow in the red sea. It was a dime-store novel of a drink: not bad, not good, with a one-dimensional plot, typical characters and just enough bite to leave you wanting more.
Oh, well. My drink was unwieldy amid the crowd of browsers and vendors with their piles of fresh paperbacks they optimistically hoped they would need. I said I would buy what spoke to me, then proceeded to get a $5 crime/noir thriller from a tattooed girl with a heavily painted face and pink hair in a black bustier.
After all, she had gone to so much effort.
The Market Bar
Sunday 3/31/23 12:30pm
I was having brunch with my friend Claudia, a gorgeous Columbian who ordered steak and eggs without blushing. Myself, bruschetta, just to be nice. And a Bloody Mary. "We serve them bare," the waitress said, "dress them how you like at the bar."
It was a salad bar of the minimalist Bauhaus variety, with the ingredients each arranged on white plates:
Salami, bacon, celery and carrot sticks, gherkins, olives, baby onions, a pile of cheese cubes, asparagus spears, and a the usual array of sauces.
I filled a plate with fixings alone,
and set it down on the table.
And talked, nodded, drank and smiled with my beautiful Columbian friend.
Against her steak, my Bloody Mary could proudly hold it's own.
Sunday 4/28/13, 12:30 pm
My pack a day Kleenex habit was in full swing.
Not Zicam or Benadryl or 24-hour brain zombification pills were helping. So I met friends for brunch, hoping my ubiquitous cure-all would help. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
I had their house Bloody: the Harvest Moon Bloody Mary. (Neil Young-inspired I assume.)
The menu listed the ingredients:
Harvest Moon Farms Heirloom Tomato,
Co-op hot sauce,
Unless “moon” was short for “moonshine” there was no alcohol listed. Was this a dry farmhouse?
Hell no, this is Chicago. So I crossed my fingers and ordered. And it was well worth it.
My drink was thick – a stick-to-your-ribs Bloody Mary with enough spice to take my cold germs out back and give them a good spanking. The beef jerky, while self-consciously trendy, complimented the flavors like a drunk at last call. All in all, it was a damn fine drink that looked as good as it tasted.
I left singing like a banshee,
Though not Susie, sadly.
But my Bloody certainly left my cold, if briefly, in the dust.
THE BLOODY TRUTH
Sunday 3/10/13, 1pm-ish
It was a meal in a glass.
Two giant olives speared alongside a High Life beer back. Bacon draped over the rim like laundry left out to dry. I dipped the bacon in my drink and let the salty ham flavor the red juice.
I was with my friend Michael Israel Gorelic.
“I don't keep kosher”, he said while dunking his pork.
“I'm not Jewish”, I said.
Then we drank more.
MARY THE MORNING AFTER
Wednesday 2/6/13, 8pm
His name was Christopher. He had faded blue eyes, a soft voice, and pale, translucent skin.
It was a first date, of sorts.
But both of our appetites were missing, or the get-to-know-you talk filled us both up, so we ordered hors d'oeuvres. Potent, pungent, pickled things: house-made gherkins, aged salami, gruyere, olives of every shape and size.
Each bite was ripened with all the stories we didn’t tell each other. Afterwards, my fingers were worthy of a good ol’ fashioned lip-sucking. But not by him.
The waiter wrapped up the olives, cheese and salami
and gave them to me to take home.
The next day,
I made one of the best Bloody Mary’s I ever had.
THE NAME'S NOT MARY, IT'S TYRELL
Somewhere outside Indianapolis
Monday 1/28/13, Dusk
It’s ten degrees.
I’m from the South.
(Well, southern Virginia. Which is kind of like, “South Light.”)
Ten mother-fucking degrees.
It’s 863 miles from Raleigh to Chicago and I’m a little over halfway there.
A few boxes of thrift store treasures
A bed, an iPad and a shared pad with someone I’ve never physically met
A new job, Sr. Copywriter, starting on Monday.
So I decide to stop for the night at a Motel 8. There's an Applebees next store. Now Applebees makes me think of the mall. Brownies the size of small children. Tchotchke made in China. America at it’s best/worst. But it’s a damn oasis on a snowy night in a strange land with the temperature dropping
I get the “Applebee's Classic Bloody Mary”
2 oz. Absolu
Standard Bloody Mix
Garnished with a red onion ring and a green pepper dangling over a celery stick like a carnival ring toss.
It’s mediocre but I don’t give a shit. Tyrell, my bartender, serves it up with a smile.
Now Tyrell is a talker. He asks me where a pretty gal like me was headed on a night like this. “Chicago, eh?” He was from the Southside. Said it was rough. That he missed the city, but he had to get out. His son and his baby momma stayed. "Getting in trouble in school," he said. Doesn’t want his son to make the same mistake he did. Now he’s about my age mind you (early 30’s), with lifelines etched around his eyes like tree rings.
“Sometime you just have to get out to keep going,” he said.
“You can do it. You’ll be okay.”
Angels come in different forms.
Cheesy to say, but I don’t give a fuck. It’s true.
Thank you Tyrell.