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Cheers! Brunch's favorite beverage, the Bloody Mary, turns 100

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

In Paris this week, a happy birthday to one of Sunday brunch's oldest and dearest friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CLINKING)

DETROW: That's the sound of a bartender at Harry's Bar stirring a Bloody Mary - vodka, tomato juice, a dash of this, a pinch of that, really, depending on who you're talking to. The legendary expat pub says the drink was invented there in 1921. Here to help us celebrate is cocktail historian Dave Wondrich, who has written for Esquire magazine and is the co-author of a recent history "All About Cocktails." Dave, how's it going?

DAVE WONDRICH: I'm doing well. How are you?

DETROW: I'm great. I'm about to be better once we make Bloody Marys, I think.

WONDRICH: Well, Bloody Marys are always a good mood adjuster, that's for sure.

DETROW: I do want to start with the history, though. I imagine being a cocktail historian involves wading through a lot of myth. How does Harry's claim on this drink hold up?

WONDRICH: It is unprovable with current evidence, let's say. It's not clearly false, but even if it's true, it's only part of the story.

DETROW: What's the streamlined story of the Bloody Mary, as far as you can tell?

WONDRICH: Starting in the 1910s, the Broadway swells, the, you know, the sporty gents who hung out in the bars and gambling dens of Broadway here in New York, discovered the juice from cans of tomatoes, if you strained it out, was a good hangover cure - or so they thought, you know. Before long, somebody was mixing it with alcohol.

DETROW: It's kind of a weird drink, right? You basically have soup ingredients and alcohol.

WONDRICH: Oh, yeah. That kind of features in the other tradition that gets blended into this. And that's the idea of the tomato juice cocktail as a prohibition drink. You know, it's prohibition, you're not supposed to drink. This guy Ernie Byfield is the top dog of restaurateurs and hoteliers in Chicago. And in 1928, he starts canning a tomato juice cocktail, a Bloody Mary as we know it but without the alcohol. So these two things eventually by 19 - the early 1930s, they get blended together and they start appearing in print. They're never called the Bloody Mary until 1939. So I think it probably had a great many parents, this drink.

DETROW: How do you like your Bloody Marys?

WONDRICH: I make my Bloody Mary exactly the classic way - vodka, four or five ounces of tomato juice, couple healthy dashes of Worcestershire, a couple healthy dashes of Tabasco, a grind of pepper, and I'll squeeze half a lemon in there.

DETROW: By a wild twist of coincidence, I happen to have all those ingredients right here. Shall we make a few?

WONDRICH: Yeah.

DETROW: All right. I've got all your stuff in front of me. Tell me what to do.

WONDRICH: OK. First thing you do is put some ice in one of the pint glasses.

DETROW: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCOOPING ICE)

DETROW: Done.

WONDRICH: If you have something to measure with - a shot glass - put in mostly full of vodka and pour it in there.

DETROW: Shot of vodka is in there with the ice.

WONDRICH: Two shots of tomato juice.

DETROW: One. Two.

WONDRICH: Tabasco to taste.

DETROW: For me, that's probably like two shakes.

WONDRICH: Worcestershire as well, a little more of that.

DETROW: OK. More.

WONDRICH: Pepper, if you have it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEPPER GRINDING)

WONDRICH: Now, you're going to pour it back and forth between those two glasses. You don't want to shake it because that makes the tomato juice foam.

DETROW: Oh, OK.

WONDRICH: The texture is wrong, and it doesn't taste like a great drink. Just back and forth between those two glasses, like four or five times.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRINK ROLLING)

WONDRICH: And that's called rolling it. And rolling the drink is essential for a Bloody Mary. All right, let me know how it is.

DETROW: It's pretty good, I feel like I'm at brunch.

WONDRICH: Well, you know, your workday is officially over (laughter).

DETROW: Cocktail historian Dave Wondrich. Dave, thanks so much.

WONDRICH: Cheers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.