A couple of seminal bloody Maries recently have inspired me to pay tribute to this finest and most functional of drinks. That a bloody Mary can seriously rival tea as a pick-me-up is testament enough to its powers. That there are times when nothing else will pull you through elevates it further still. A well made bloody Mary is part vitamin injection, part refreshment, part restorative, part sharpener... and all powerful.
Here then are ten hail Maries to my most memorable examples of the genre...
1. First blood
South Buckinghamshire, circa 1991
Never really getting the point of tomato juice, I had never seriously considered the attractions the BM might have to offer. But at a New Year party thrown by my friends Jo and Kate at Kate's family pile I had one thrust upon me. Not the kind of spicy creation I would later come to know and love but a relatively simple affair far more appropriate for its early-evening timing. Big wine glasses charged with a generous slug of gloopy tomato juice and then spiked with a hefty shot of vodka so cold we were drinking crystals. A bloody slush puppy, then, and the start of a beautiful relationship.
2. Bloody Bell
Wendens Ambo, early 1990s
The college holidays would typically find me working in The Bell, a local village pub populated by local villagers in the cosy Essex hamlet of Wendens Ambo. While there, ironic given my relatively recent introduction to their delights, I gained a reputation for mixing a wicked BM. Helen and Linda, as I recall, were the main beneficiaries of my art, the latter drinking hers out of a tiny copper cup. These were hardly works of subtlety: vodka, ice, as much Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco as I thought I could get away with and a dash of tomato juice if there was room, but they brought smiles to faces so I must have been doing something right.
3. Bloody awful
How not to do it. A visit to the Boathouse in Seaview represents a very pleasant 20-minute walk along the beach from the Bush family holiday flat on the Isle of Wight. Twenty minutes that were rather spoilt for Antonia and me earlier this year when the newly refurbished pub blotted its apparent gastropubby credentials by being completely unable to make us a BM. I could have probably forgiven them if they'd just said no, but instead of admitting they didn't have the necessary ingredients we were each rather grudgingly given a vodka and tomato juice. No ice, no lemon, no spice, no bloody Mary. I seem to remember they didn't have any food either. Rubbish.
4. One for the road
M4, 2000 (ish)
A trip to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup. Mark and I spent the evening before in Baltic and at some point engaged the barman there in a chat about what makes the perfect bloody Mary. Lots of advice was offered, most of it heeded before the evening was out when I made up a bottle for us to take in the back of the bus the next morning. A Jameson's bottle if I remember rightly. There was fresh garlic and chilli involved, and the bottle spent the night in the freezer. Very good.
5. Red missed
World Trade Center, 1999
6. Lounge wizard
San Francisco, 2006
Why is that some of the trappings of poshness involve doing more and more for yourself? The help-yourself country house breakfast is the classic example (or so I'm told) but another is a little closer at hand. Or at least it is if you've got a mate with a few hundred thousand air miles to use up. First class airport lounges are curiously short on staff, but you can pretty much help yourself to anything you like. And what I liked that summer morning was the idea of a pre-flight bloody Mary. So I made myself a cracker, complete with a red wine floater on top. Spot on.
7. The real thing
Hoxton, 1998 (ish)
The much missed Pool Bar, now reborn as the scary-looking Hoxton Pony, was, I think, where I learned the trick with the red wine. But the thing that made this particular BM stick in the mind was the catastrophic glass breaking that somehow occurred during its creation. To this day I still wonder if that bloody Mary contained any actual blood. I think on balance I rather hope it did.
8. Quite contrary
Marylebone High Street, 2008
So typical of The Providores, Peter Gordon's bastion of innovative fusion cuisine, to surprise when you'd have thought no surprise were needed. The daytime menu on Sundays is all brunch, even upstairs where you can book (why people queue up downstairs – where you can't – is a mystery). And where just about every other decently made bloody Mary focuses pleasingly on spice, perhaps offsetting it with a bit citrus and/or a splash of something vinous, this one leads unapologetically with the highest quality tomato juice and dares to be different by going with coriander instead of chilli. Recommended.
9. Bloody marvellous
The drink that sparked this reverie came at the excellent Kings Arms in Litton last weekend, and was a medicinal requirement after a thoroughly pleasant but pleasantly thorough dinner the night before at The Old Spot in Wells. No special innovation here, just a confident hand with the lemon, plenty of ice, a shot or two of vodka, the standard brace of sauces and a sprinkling of fresh pepper on top. No extras, no frills and no bloody celery. Just a proper bloody Mary in a proper bloody pub.
10. Hot shots part deux
Most of the above
Because it's surprising how often one bloody Mary is just not quite enough...