I can’t remember my first Bloody Mary, and there are only two likely explanations for that. Option one: At 17, I watched The Royal Tenenbaums on loop, wanted to marry Richie Tenenbaum, tried to create his favorite cocktail, failed, and gave up on love and mixology. Option two: Wanted to marry Richie Tenenbaum, created his favorite cocktail, triumphed, repeated, blacked out. It’s probably option two.
However it may have started, my love for Bloody Marys runs deep. Lucky for me, there’s no better place to lust after Mary than San Francisco. A Bloody booze cruise is easy here, with fancy bistros to dive bars bringing their A-game to the tomato juice and Tabasco unofficial Olympics. Looking for a mouthwatering liquid lunch on the cheap? Found it. Pretentious friends who say nothing is too spicy for them? I got you. No matter your hankering, use this guide to ensure a Bloody Mary is never too far out of reach.
There’s no other bar like The Ramp in the city, and what else are you going to drink while passing a slow, sunny day overlooking the water? The stiff Bloody Marys here prompted a haiku:
Dream of life on boats
Why aren’t there more garnishes?
Tricky walking now
You know it’s serious when a dive bar has a little crate at the end of the bar filled with V8s, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and seasoning shakers. Bloody Marys here are confusingly cheap, and when you order one, the stools of regulars nod approval. These Bloodys have a little barley bite (hello, splash of Guinness) and come with enough garnishes – baby corn, pickles, pepperchinis, Slim Jims or bacon – to be a light, almost healthy, lunch.
Zuni Café’s Bloody is sexy, of course. Discovering tomato water as the secret for dear Mary’s ideal body balance is worth the price of admission. It starts simply, with salt and pepper, Tabasco and tomato juice, and gets creative with the addition of tomato water, six-year-aged balsamic vinegar, and chopped red onion relish. I’m not usually an onion fan, but when they kept creeping up my straw, I had to embrace the wet crunch.
One of these things is not like the others, and it’s the Betelnut Bloody Mary. Made with whole bird’s eye chilies and chili sauce, the spice in these makes your gums ache, and the unusual Pan-Asian recipe is in a class all its own. I’ve learned to ask for less chili sauce in order to avoid sweating in public and to actually taste the distinction of soy sauce, Thai basil, and garlic, which makes for a uniquely delicious Bloody.
On weekends at Elixir, there are variations of tomato juices, tins of bacon (!), a flock of every possible hot sauce, and a small jungle of stemmed accessories for the DIY Bloody Mary bar. After the vodka is poured, you’re left to your own devices. To replicate Elixir’s non-DIY recipe, shake in Tapatio, cayenne pepper, and a fair dose of Worcestershire and stir with a bacon strip to make a sweet and sour Bloody with the perfect degree of hotness.
I know there are 40 or so beers on tap at Zeitgeist, but I’ve never had one of them. Ordering Bloody Marys here is like muscle memory for my mouth. They’re strong (generous pours) yet full-bodied and hot, but smooth (thank you, pickle juice) going down. This Bloody Mary embodies the feel of Zeitgeist: somewhat agro yet welcoming and strangely harmonious. There’s some kind of extra kick, probably the stir of horseradish, that makes me not just devour but also relish and respect the Bloody here.
Most of us know Clement Street is the spot for cheap produce, but it’s also where to go for a cheap, pungent Bloody Mary. Bartenders here will tell you they’ve been trained specifically to master the 540 Bloody and will recommend Absolut Peppar to substitute well vodka. But lemon juice offers tang and Crystal Hot Sauce brings enough heat to mask any possible off-brand gnarly-ness to secure a $6 steal.