If chili has a liquid cousin, it is the Bloody Mary. Not for those obvious spice and tomato-based similarities, but because they share that passive-aggressive knack that blood-relations have so perfected for turning perfectly sunny conversations into thunderous affairs. It usually starts innocently enough with a rundown of what ingredients absolutely should not be included. But soon that brunch plate becomes a victory flag of sorts, waved about to illustrate whose Bloody Mary is better (always the one made by whomever is speaking at the moment).
If a drink like this is so personal, why are we bringing you our picks for the 7 Best Bloody Marys in L.A. (one for each day of the week)? Because in a city that does brunch as well as L.A., occasionally even home drinking advocates are going to take a sip or two beyond their own bar. And do note that yes, we are guilty of changing our bloody (Mary) minds all the time, as our top pick isn't the same as it was just a few months ago. With only 7 picks, we also left several other greats off the list for what we can only claim were clouded head hangover-induced reasons. Let the horseradish-slinging comments begin.
7. La Cita. We all have those weekends when friends insist we meet out for brunch, but we'd rather stay home and make our own damn Bloody Mary, thank you. Enter build-your-own Bloody Mary bars, essentially the salad bars of the cocktail world. They're certainly are not a new idea, and by Saturday at 10 a.m., the olives are out by the thousands around town. We give The Belmont in West Hollywood kudos as it has several base mixes from which to start and adds the brilliant addition of Slim Jims to the garnish pile (What better for a hangover than nitrates, preservatives and more alcohol?). But our favorite build-your-own bar is still La Cita. You can sit outside on the patio during their “Sunday Bloody Sunday” *afternoon* bar (Sundays 1 p.m. until 9 p.m.), getting every last weekend hour in before the workweek denial sets in. The bad rock music is free, but so are the boiled shrimp, salami, bacon and cheese cube garnishes. Pile on enough, and you've essentially got a salad bar shot with a vodka-tomato juice chaser. And Sunday night supper. 336 S. Hill St., Downtown, (213) 687-7111.
6. Simon L.A. The junk food platter at Simon L.A. still manages to get most of the online chatter, but the Bloody Marys are the reason we go back to Kerry Simon's trendier than thou Sofitel Hotel Simon L.A. digs. They're heavy on the tomato juice, with plenty of spice — or not, if you're not into that sort of thing (just tell your waiter). With a Bloody Mary in hand on the gorgeous outdoor patio, it's hard to imagine any downsides to living in L.A. And then the Heidi Montag look-alikes settle in next to you. But we like to look at the plastic surgery backdrop as simply an excuse for another round. Sofitel Hotel, 8555 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 278-5444.
5. Vü Restaurant. Sipping a Bloody Mary at a harbor-front, farmer's market-driven restaurant with incredible views sounds like impossibly perfect. The catch? The kitchen at Vü has molecular gastronomy slant, bringing to mind visions of jellied vodka, tomato brine air, and other such ill-advised early morning deconstructions best left to the Friday night cocktail crowd. But actually, at Vü you simply get a Bloody Mary with tomato juice made from fresh-squeezed tomatoes, a dash of mustard, the ubiquitous Worcestershire splash, some olive juice and horseradish… and the rather brilliant addition of celery bitters. Jamaica Bay Inn, 4175 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, (310) 823-5333.
Turn the page for #4, etc….
4. Joe's Restaurant. At some point in L.A.'s blue crab-Weiser Farms potato hash brunch history, the Bloody Mary crossed the great kitchen divide from doctored-up bottled tomato juice sips to fresh ingredients only-type fare. Whether that's a good thing depends on where you stand on the Bloody Mary-as-liquid-ketchup flavor spectrum. Regardless, long before those mixology-inspired heirloom tomato juice versions, there was, and still is, the thoughtful, fresh-forward Bloody Mary at Joe's Restaurant. Light on the tomato juice so it doesn't overwhelm Joe Miller's brunch creations, you can taste those subtle chef tweeks and tinkerings. Only here, as we've come to expect from Miller, they're done in a very restrained, classic Bloody Mary tribute sort of way. 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Venice, (310) 399-5811.
3. Cole's. Anything that gets a 24-hour rest to develop flavor (sourdough bread, Jacques Torres' chocolate chip cookie dough, we could go on) is usually more complex than its just-mixed cousin. As a cocktail case study of that theory, we offer Cole's Bloody Mary. The secret to the tomato base is juice from the house-made “atomic” pickles, plenty of horseradish and the clincher, the same in-house rub the kitchen uses for their meat (not as odd as it sounds, if you think about the flavor parallels). Give it a 24 hour rest, add some vodka, and you've got one of the best Bloody Marys in town. Maybe even the best, depending on the day of the week you ask us. 118 E. Sixth St., Downtown, (213) 622-4090.
2. The Hungry Cat. Seafood, really good seafood. And really good Bloody Marys. You get the idea. Any Bloody Mary at The Hungry Cat is excellent on its own, preferably with a side like the crab cake Benedict, chorizo frittata or main lobster roll. But we're partial to that Maryland Mary with a spicy-salty rim and served with an oyster. Ingeniously simple, fresh, and just a touch different, as with every other Hungry Cat cocktail we've sampled. Another half dozen oysters on the side? Sure, why not. 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155; 100 W. Channel Rd., Santa Monica, (310) 459-3337.
Turn the page for our #1 pick…
1. Fig. For that Sunday morning carnal craving, Fig's smoky bacon Bloody Mary (bacon-infused gin, fresh tomato juice, a bacon slice for garnish) and Foie Mary (vodka, tomato juice, and pureed foie gras with foie gras stuffed olives) definitely have that meat advantage. And with the California foie gras ban going into effect in July, the oddly compelling foie gras cocktail has added “last hurrah” appeal, even if it is rather filling (we like to think of it as a Slim Fast cocktail for the ladies-who-lunch set). To our surprise, we even found that the fresh tomato and watermelon juice version, which sounded like entirely too “pretty” of a cocktail, to be a nice light refresher even if we wouldn't call it a Bloody Mary.
But we're going to have to crown “Richard's Secret Recipe,” the restaurant's classic version, as the penultimate Bloody Mary winner. Richard is Richard Horne, whom you are likely to find behind the bar on any given Sunday, so it's wise to be nice to him. Be sure to ask him about his Bloody Mary vodka preferences. Just don't ask him, as we did, if it really matters what brand you use — doesn't the tomato juice cover up that clean vodka flavor? It does matter to Horne. Which is why you want him, not anyone else behind the bar at Fig, to make your cocktail. As for the drink itself, this isn't a dark red, cocktail sauce-inspired number, but a fresh-tasting tomato version with a balanced hand on the fresh horseradish and spices. Or so we surmise, as like most Bloody Mary devotees, Horne is keeping mum on his secret recipe. Fairmont Hotel, 101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 319-3111.
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Elina Shatkin and Daina Beth Solomon contributed to this report.
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More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com.