On any given Sunday, you can find brunch regulars at the Well building Bloody Marys at a bar stocked with an intoxicating array of ingredients.
Customers pay $5.50 for a glass of ice and vodka, then customize the cocktail with their pick of eight Bloody Mary mixes, 20 hot sauces, pickles, olives, beef jerky sticks, cherry peppers, lemons, limes, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and celery sticks, the quintessential garnish.
“Some people put two or three of those in their drink,” general manager Raymond Reyes says, “so it looks like a small salad.”
Over the past few years, Bloody Mary bars have become weekend staples at several local bars and restaurants, including the RecordBar and Port Fonda in Westport, Tomfooleries on the Country Club Plaza and downtown’s Bristol Seafood Grill. The customizable cocktails are also popular at tailgating parties, bridal showers and homemade brunches.
Michelle Majerle of Prairie Village assembles Bloody Mary bars for her book club’s regular brunches. Her essentials include blue cheese-stuffed olives, Tabasco hot sauce, dill pickle spears, celery salt and Zing Zang, a mix that she says has the perfect hint of heat.
“The more options, the better,” Majerle says.
The first Bloody Mary was made in 1921 by Pete Petiot, a bartender at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. At first, it was a simple, savory concoction of tomato juice and vodka, but eventually Petiot tweaked the recipe by adding Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and other seasonings.
According to “The New Food Lover’s Companion” (2013 Barron’s Educational Series), Petiot named the drink after Mary Tudor, queen of England and Ireland, whose executions of Protestants earned her the nickname Bloody Mary.
These days, Bloody Marys are associated more with hot sauce, bacon and hangovers than murderous queens.
“A Bloody Mary is more than a drink, it’s a hangover helper,” says John Bryan of Louisburg, Kan. “The tomato juice has a bunch of vitamins, and there’s something magical about horseradish — it gets some sweat on the brow.”
Bryan, who works as export director for Firestone Walker Brewing Co., discovered Bloody Marys in college. In 1984, he was a regular at the Elephant Bar in Olathe, where bartenders spiked the drink with Gates barbecue sauce.
Gates sauce is a fixture at the Bloody Mary bars Bryan assembles while tailgating before Chiefs games. He also likes Arthur Bryant’s sauce for tang and Jack Stack’s all-purpose KC barbecue rub, which adds flavors of onion, garlic and bell pepper.
When it comes to barbecue sauce, a little goes a long way, says Eddie Crane, co-founder of Revel Traveling Bar & Events.
“Less than a teaspoon will add a little Kansas City flavor,” Crane says, “but you don’t want to feel like you’re drinking barbecue sauce.”
Crane likes Kansas City’s Cowtown Night of the Living Bar-B-Q sauce, a hot concoction that promises to “reanimate your tastebuds.” The bartender also likes surprising ingredients such as pickled asparagus, Greek seasoning and pickled tomatoes, also known as tomolives. He amps up the flavor of the drink with basil or bacon-infused vodka and has even considered infusing the spirit with hard salami sticks.
“Imagine a Slim Jim-infused vodka,” Crane says. “That would be interesting.”
Not all Bloody Marys are made with vodka: Port Fonda’s bar serves Bloody Marias made with tequila, mezcal or a combination of the agave-based spirits. “Cocktails: The Bartender’s Bible” (Firefly 2013) offers eight versions of the drink, including a Bloody Joseph spiked with scotch and a Bloody Maru made with sake.
That’s the thing about DIY Bloody Marys: The sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity.
It’s easy to go overboard at Tomfooleries, which offers one of Kansas City’s most extensive Bloody Mary bars on Saturdays and Sundays. The staggering selection includes 18 mixes — horseradish-heavy Mr. and Mrs. T is a customer favorite — and about 50 garnishes, including shrimp, house-pickled green beans and garlic breadsticks.
Owner Barton Bloom says that every once in a while, a customer adds way too much hot sauce and ends up with an undrinkable cocktail.
“We give them some more tomato juice to mellow it out,” Bloom says.
Last month, Tomfooleries added a build-your-own mimosa bar where customers can doctor Champagne with 12 juices, fresh fruit and fun add-ins such as Froot Loops cereal and gummy worms, which tend to run out fast.
DIY cocktail bars can be a lot of work, Bloom says, but they’re also a lot of fun.
“You know, the more, the merrier,” he says.
The bar essentials
In her book “Around the Table” (HarperCollins 2014), country superstar Martina McBride shares entertaining tips for gatherings throughout the year. The “spring brunch outdoors” section features a list of Bloody Mary bar ingredients and instructions.
The Bloody Mary base and garnishes can be prepped ahead of time: McBride recommends combining vodka and Bloody Mary mix in a large pitcher, then chilling the base in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
The garnishes can be prepped a day in advance and put in bowls, jars or platters. “Just cover and refrigerate until it’s time to give (or eat) the toast,” McBride writes. Make sure the bar is stocked with utensils, skewers and napkins.
McBride offers this list of ingredients as a “jumping-off point.” Feel free to swap in your favorites.
1 (750-milliliter) bottle of vodka
2 (32-ounce) bottles of Bloody Mary mix (McBride recommends Zing Zang)
1 bunch celery stalks with leaves, trimmed
2 (16-ounce) jars pickled okra
1/2 cup cornichons
1 cup green olives
3 lemons, cut into wedges
3 limes, cut into wedges
12 baby carrots, with tops
1 pound (16 to 20 count) cooked, peeled shrimp
1/2 cup prepared horseradish
1 small bottle hot sauce or Sriracha
2 tablespoons celery salt
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 small bottle Worcestershire sauce
Source: “Around the Table: Recipes and Inspiration for Gatherings Throughout the Year” (HarperCollins 2014)
Five KC Bloody Mary bars
These Kansas City bars and restaurants allow customers to build their own Bloody Marys on weekends.
Bristol Seafood Grill
Bristol’s location at 51 E. 14th St. in the Power & Light District offers a Bloody Mary bar during brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. The brunch buffet costs $26 per person; customizable Bloody Marys cost $4.50 or $6.50 if you upgrade to vodka infused with cucumber, chipotle, bacon or pepper flavor.
Bloody Marias spiked with tequila, mezcal or a combination of the agave-based spirits are the specialty at Port Fonda, 4141 Pennsylvania. The modern Mexican restaurant’s Bloody Maria bar is available during brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Each drink costs $10 and comes with unlimited garnishes. Choose between six to eight mixes (many housemade), six flavored salts, hot sauces, pickled vegetables and eggs, crispy bacon slices and fried pork rinds, or chicharrón.
The RecordBar’s popular Bartender’s Brunch and Bloody Mary Buffet, from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, has long been a popular spot for service industry workers recovering from late-night weekend shifts.
A trip to the loaded Bloody Mary bar costs $6, or $3.50 if you want a virgin cocktail. The RecordBar is at 1020 Westport Road in Westport.
The Well, 7421 Broadway St. in the Waldo neighborhood, sets up a Bloody Mary bar during brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays. Selections include eight mixes, more than 20 hot sauces and a long list of garnishes that includes pickles, olives, beef jerky and celery sticks.
A trip to the bar costs $5.50, but for an extra dollar or two, customers can upgrade to a premium vodka such as Grey Goose.
You’ll find one of the city’s most extensive Bloody Mary bars on weekends at Tomfooleries, 612 W. 47th St. The Country Club Plaza restaurant and bar offers a Bloody Mary bar with 18 mixes and about 50 garnishes, including shrimp, obscure hot sauces, pickled green beans and garlic breadsticks.
Tomfooleries also has a mimosa bar where customers jazz up Champagne with fresh fruit, juice and fun add-ins such as gummy worms.
Both bars are available during brunch from 11 a.m-2 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. The Bloody Marys cost $5.50 to $9.50 depending on the vodka, gin or tequila, and mimosas cost about $6.
Classic Bloody Mary Mix
If you prefer homemade Bloody Mary mix to store-bought, try this recipe, which incorporates all the classic ingredients (Tabasco, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce). Mix it up by adding pickles, olives and other garnishes.
Makes 6 servings
1 quart tomato juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon celery salt
6 jiggers vodka, or to taste
6 celery stalks
Combine the tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, Tabasco and horseradish in a 2-quart pitcher and stir well. Cover the top of the pitcher with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 day.
When you are ready to serve the cocktails, put the celery salt on a saucer. Wet the lips of six tall glasses and dip in the celery salt. Fill the glasses with ice. Add a jigger of vodka to each glass. Carefully fill each glass with the tomato juice mixture, stir, and garnish with a stalk of celery.
Per serving: 128 calories (4 percent from fat), trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 882 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Source: “The Hot Sauce Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press 2013)
Spicy Cajun Bloody Mary Mix
This mix gets its kick from Creole seasoning, traditionally made with cayenne pepper, garlic and paprika. Keep extra tomato juice on hand for guests who can’t handle the heat.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 (64 ounce) bottle tomato juice
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, plus more for rimming glasses
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon steak sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
Juice from half a lemon
Mix tomato juice, seasoning, garlic, horseradish, steak sauce, Worcestershire, Tabasco and lemon juice in a pitcher or jug until the Creole seasoning is completely dissolved. Use the mix right away or chill for a few hours to let the flavors mingle.
Serve the mix in a glass rimmed with additional Creole seasoning and filled with ice and a shot of vodka or your preferred spirit.
Per serving, based on 8: 149 calories (4 percent from fat), trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 13 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 1,037 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Barbecue Bloody Mary Mix
Add a Kansas City twist to Bloody Marys with your favorite barbecue sauce, then garnish with cherry tomatoes, bacon, celery or all of the above.
Makes 8 servings
8 cups tomato juice
1 cup vodka
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
Lime and/or lemon wedges
Celery salt, for garnish
Mix tomato juice, vodka, barbecue sauce, lemon juice, Worcestershire, hot sauce, celery salt and horseradish in a large pitcher.
Moisten the rims of 8 glasses with a lime or lemon wedge, then dip the rims in celery salt. Fill the glasses with ice and the tomato juice mixture, then add desired garnishes.
Per serving: 122 calories (5 percent from fat), trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 14 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 1,254 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.