The bloody mary is kind of a one-trick pony. Rare is the person who steps up to the bar at last call and orders up a vodka and tomato.
No, the bloody is almost strictly the booze beverage of the recently out of bed. It’s the vehicle for your hair of the dog, the slave to your aching head.
That doesn’t mean the bloody mary is boring. It’s arguably the most customizable beverage on the planet. Would you like it mild or spicy? Thin or thick? Citrusy and bright or meaty and dank? Mmm. Meaty.
“Everybody enjoys their bloody mary a slightly different way,” said Cole Eure, general manager of Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub. “You can have a little bit of fun with it.”
Look no further than the existence of the bloody mary bar for proof of the drink’s customizability. What other drink would bartenders simply hand over to their patrons to create themselves? (None that I know of, although the possibilities of a well-planned do-it-yourself martini bar intrigue the lush within.) Charlottesville, unfortunately, claims relatively few places that allow you to make your own spicy tomato juice cocktail, but Fellini’s #9 rolls one out on Sundays that can help the DIY fanatic scratch that itch.
Fellini’s bloody bar may not blow you away with its garnishes—the standard fare of celery, carrots, pickles, and pepperoncini tend to wilt as the day wears on—but the selection of hot sauces will. The sheer number of them, including staples like Sriracha, Cholula, and Tabasco, as well as oddballs such as peri-peri and a frightening looking bottle containing the extract of the notorious ghost pepper, makes it difficult to have only one bloody at Fellini’s. You’ve got to go back again and again to truly test the effects of each sauce. Plus, Fellini’s keeps the cast of capsaicin-containing characters rotating, so be on the lookout for new sauces on each visit.
The real beauty of the Fellini’s bloody mary bar, though, might be where the cocktail starts. You can add horseradish, Worcestershire, and Old Bay at the bar, but the drink comes to the table with a nice bit of complexity built in.
“It’s our house bloody mary mix…tomato juice and a few secret ingredients,” bartender Katina Dell’Acqua-Lubich said. “That’s as specific as I can be.”
Now, say you want to create a customized bloody, but you’re not so keen on getting out of your seat once you’re in it. Find yourself a designated driver and go visit Eure at the Devils Backbone pub in Roseland. As with Fellini’s, you’ll only get the royal treatment on a Sunday, but the award-winning brewery does it right on the day of rest by bringing you a list of ingredients you can have the bartender add to your morning buzz bearer.
“We have a build-your-own burger bar, a build-your-own this and that, and that kind of transferred to the bloody mary bar,” Eure said.
First, select your base layer. You might want to lean toward the spicy option, as the standard mix is store bought Zing Zang—good, but available just about anywhere. Devils Backbone amps up its spicy version with the addition of Serrano peppers, chopped and allowed to steep for around 48 hours. Next, pick a garnish. The really amazing stuff, like oysters when in season and bacon, costs extra, but the brewpub includes a few nice options in the list price, as well. Finally, add a spice mix. You’re ready to roll.
Wait, did I say you were ready to roll? Not at a brewery of Devils Backbone’s ilk. Order yourself a beer to back up that bloody. The highly decorated Vienna Lager would certainly be one way to go, but try it with a Gold Leaf Lager instead. You won’t find the brewery’s pilsner in as many stores as its Vienna-style, and its lighter body contrasts more with a bloody mary’s heat.
If you’re willing to stop being a control freak for one morning of hangover curing, try a bloody at Mono Loco. The Downtown Latin restaurant has one of the best house-made bloody mixes in town for my money, and you can waltz in there and order one any time you like. Mono Loco’s bartenders chock the mix full of spices—red pepper, whole black peppercorns, green chilies—and it delivers a nice clean tomato flavor with notes of citrus. It’s spicy without reading “hot sauce” and hearty at the same time. You will literally have to chew portions of it.
I asked the bartender what was in the mix last time I was at Mono Loco. “You got some jalapeños in there,” he said.
So he’s not into details. But he wasn’t all bad—along with the delicious Mono Loco mix, he poured plenty of vodka in my glass.