Bloody Marys With a Twist

By Emily Heil
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 18, 2007

Besides lukewarm coffee and weak mimosas, nothing ruins a brunch like a lifeless bloody mary -- you know, the kind that makes you wish you had just hit the snooze button instead of braving the crowds with a hangover.

The drink's origins are about as murky as a glass of tomato juice, but the most accepted story is that it was invented as a hangover cure by an American bartender at Harry's New York Bar in 1920s Paris.

Today, many restaurants offer their own variations on the bloody mary theme, though most use some combination of the drink's traditional ingredients: tomato juice, lemon or lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, horseradish, salt, pepper and a rib of celery for garnish.

But if it's novelty you're craving with your eggs Benedict, fear not. Plenty of places are putting whimsical spins on this classic cocktail. From unexpected garnishes -- wasabi nuts or bacon, anyone? -- to haute-cuisine preparations involving foam, your bloody mary can be every bit as exciting as the party the night before.

Bar Pilar

What isn't better with a slice or two of bacon? This hipster watering hole plunges two strips of very thick, crisp fruitwood-smoked bacon into its standard bloody mary ($7). And, as if the generous helping of meat isn't enough heft, the drink also comes with a skewer of pimento-stuffed olives.

The juice itself is a Tabasco-brand premade mix, but bartenders will liven it up to customers' specifications with lime juice, horseradish, ground pepper and Tabasco sauce. Consuming one is like eating a grown-up, savory version of Fun Dip, with the bacon softening slightly in the tomato juice. "It's a meal in itself," bartender Robin Poast says.

1833 14th St. NW, 202-265-1751,


So the bloody mary doesn't include the eponymous liquor of this whiskey-happy hangout, with locations in Glover Park and Adams Morgan. But that doesn't seem to bother the brunch crowds -- a mix of stroller-pushing families and huddles of clean-cut late-night partyers -- who lap up the spicy tomato blend ($8) served with a rim, margarita-style, of Old Bay seasoning.

2348 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-625-7770; 2321 18th St. NW, 202-332-0800;

Cafe Atlantico

This snazzy Penn Quarter boite is known for fanciful fusions of Latin and Central American cuisines as well as the wildly inventive Minibar.

Its bloody mary offering ($7) is similarly sophisticated: served in a martini glass, the drink is spiked with fiery serrano chilies and Absolut Peppar, a pepper-infused vodka, and topped with a crown of foamed, freshly squeezed celery juice that bartenders whip up with a handheld blender. Atop the drink, the froth resembles a bubble bath and adds a cooling, refreshing note to the spicy concoction.

405 Eighth St. NW, 202-393-0812,


Bloody mary fans have three options at this quietly glam Dupont Circle spot.

The NOLA ($10) -- kicked up with such Big Easy flavors as Crystal hot sauce, Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning and a pickled okra garnish -- pays homage to floor manager Will Earls's stint in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The wasabi version ($12, see recipe) stars wasabi powder and lime-infused vodka for a powerful but not acidic wallop.

And the third option gets a south-of-the-border twist from jalapeños and a fried green tomatillo garnish ($12).

"I like to take something people love and challenge their idea about what they think it is," Earls says.

1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW, 202-861-1310,

Hank's Oyster Bar

When chef and owner Jamie Leeds opened this cozy, upscale seafood shack, she didn't have a liquor license. And so the bloody-mary-sake-oyster shooter ($3) was born, a concoction of tomato juice, spices, sweet Japanese wine and a raw, plump oyster, served in an oversize shot glass. "We were looking for creative things to do with wine," she says.

And although she has long had the paperwork needed to serve the traditional vodka bloody, the sake version has stayed on the menu. It's no novelty act, Leeds insists: "The tomato juice, horseradish and the sweetness of the sake really complement the brininess of the oyster." The petite size and price encourage multiple orders among the raucous neighborhood brunch crowd.

1624 Q St. NW, 202-462-4265,

Peacock Cafe

Georgetown prepsters recover from last night's revelry -- and get their veggies -- with Peacock's green-bean bloody. A sweet-yet-tart pickled green bean crowns the icy red juice, providing a counterpoint to the drink's spicy tomato flavor.

Co-owner Shahab Farivar says the secret to the piquant brew is freshly squeezed tomato and celery juices and a kick of Absolut Peppar ($9.50 for the Absolut version; $7 for rail vodka). "We make gallons of it," he says. "It's become our trademark."

3251 Prospect St. NW, 202-625-2740,

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