“Do you know how to make a bloody Mary?” he asked.
I still remember the question. In retrospect I should have said no, but I was youthful and inexperienced back then.
This was a time when the Super Bowl involved the 49ers team, and not just their stadium. It was also when the game was played relatively early in the day. For many, football is a daytime adventure, and involves brunches and breakfasts (Monday Night notwithstanding). And when it comes to day drinking, no drink is more popular than the bloody Mary.
The bloody Mary’s birth is now lost in competing origin myths. The oldest claim — 1921 — by Fernand Petoit is dubious at best since tomato juice as we know it wasn’t available until 1925. Maybe the Mary was invented by comedian George Jessel or 21 Club bartender Henry Zbikiewicz, or perhaps it was originally made at the Ritz bar in Paris or Harry’s Bar, or at the Savoy in London. Whatever the case, the drink as we know it — vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and black pepper —came to prominence in the 1930s and has stood the test of time. Sure there have been variations along the way, the red snapper being the most memorable (made with gin instead of vodka) and additions have also been made, such as celery salt, olives, lime, pickled green beans, etc.
“Of course I know how to make a bloody Mary,” I answered. I didn’t know it then but it was actually not a commentary on my ability, but rather on my profession and ultimately, on me personally.
The man who had uttered the question was a “friend” of my new girlfriend. And we had been invited along with many others to a lavish Super Bowl party at her parents’ lavish house.
Our relationship was new enough that I had yet to search for any flaws. It was fun and new and exciting, and that was enough for me.
“Maybe you should show us how to make one,” he said.
A little hint about bloody Marys — freshly made ones are indeed the best, however they are also quite labor intensive. Ten ingredients in any drink, is an awful lot (my motto has always been “no more than four”); toss into the equation the messiness of tomato juice and even in a professional setting it can be a challenge. That is why every good busy bar makes them in bulk. Vodka, bulk mix and garnish and you’re done. Quick, easy and consistent.
“Yes Jeff, maybe you should,” my new girlfriend chimed in.
“Aw, come on,” she purred, holding on to my arm.
“Yeah, Jack,” her friend said.
“Jeff,” she corrected him.
“Oh yeah, Jeff. Come on.”
I was beginning to really not like this guy.
It started out with just two bloody Marys.
“Hey, everybody, Jeff the bartender is making bloody Marys!”
A little cheer went up from those assembled.
Soon enough there was a line in front of the kitchen island that served as a makeshift bar. Once I had made 10 or so there was no going back. These days I would have simply said “No,” but as I said, I was young and naïve.
Soon enough I ran out of tomato juice. But then as if by magic some V8 juice appeared, courtesy of my girlfriend’s friend. Next I ran out of Worcestershire sauce, but there was some Chinese black vinegar in the back pantry. Then the Tabasco ran dry, replaced by garlic-chili paste. Black pepper turned to white pepper, and lemons turned to lime. By the end it was just gin, V8, balsamic vinegar and sambal chili paste.
Still, the drinks were the hit of the party. The sad part is that I didn’t get to enjoy any of it. My new girlfriend had spent the whole time talking to her “friend,” while I made drinks for her parents and their friends.
It was the last time I ever made drinks at a Super Bowl party. And the last party I ever went to with her.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• Age and experience can save you an awful lot of work.
• Sometimes your girlfriend’s “friend” can be your worst enemy.
• A wise man knows that you don’t have to answer every challenge, a fool does not.
• I now know what the busman felt like.
• Go Broncos!