Unless every bartender in your town buys the same brand of pre-mix*, the Bloody Mary is the most inconsistent drink possible. The variations on spicy alone could fill all the cocktail blogs on Tumblr. And the thing is, no one is really wrong here. Any number of snobs may disagree, but liking a little extra lime in your Bloody Mary isn’t the same as wanting orange juice and soda water in an Old Fashioned.
Sometimes the Bloody Mary is a bartender or restaurant’s** signature. Your friends will say “The Bloody Mary is great here” and you can re-evaluate your friendship upon finishing your drink. But other times it’s a volume proposition, and the place just has to put out as many drinks as possible hoping for the fewest possible complaints.
This is why I lift my general distaste for mix-your-own cocktail gimmicks for the Bloody Mary. The last thing anyone wants at Sunday brunch is a bad Bloody Mary (or bright light…or loud noises…or access to the previous night’s text messages, tweets and status updates).
The best build-your-own Bloody Mary bar I’ve ever been to combines the expertise of a seasoned professional with the do-your-worst mentality of a college cafeteria waffle station***. There’s a bartender present to add the ingredients you want. She doesn’t judge, but she will let you know that an even split of lime juice, tomato juice and Sriracha isn’t going to do you any favors. You don’t have to listen, but you probably should.
In the end, your drink is what you want. If you say you like it spicy with a noticeable amount of lime and horseradish, you’ll get it. If you want little more than tomato soup with vodka in it, that can happen too. No one is going to judge…unless I happen to be there.
*Bloody Mary mix terrifies me. I’m a neurotic with an intense fear of food spoilage, and buying two quarts of warm tomato juice and horseradish makes me uneasy beyond belief.
**In my experience, a bar that has no food service is unlikely to serve a good Bloody Mary.
***The concept of a waffle made entirely of chocolate chips is tempting, but the dean will get mad at you.