The Tale of French Lick, the Hair of the Dog, and the Bloody Mary
By Jennifer Young
Although the cocktail named “Bloody Mary” can be traced to the New York Hotel in Paris, France, it might never have existed but for its precursor invented at French Lick’s own Springs Hotel and Restaurant.
While the Paris version was invented in 1921, the Indiana version dates to a warm summer day in 1917. While there have been many incarnations of the Bloody Mary over the ensuing decades, the drink remains the cocktail of choice for mornings after a long night on the town. Perhaps that’s why it should be no surprise that National Bloody Mary Day is on January 1st—the day after the world’s most festive night of partying.
Chef Louis Perrin of the French Lick Restaurant was preparing his morning meal for hotel guests when he realized he was short on oranges and couldn’t make the required batch of orange juice needed to serve diners. In a flash of inspiration, Chef Perrin grabbed a bunch of tomatoes and turned them into juice. He added sugar and a secret sauce. The result was a huge success that literally created a demand for tomato juice overnight.
The unique concoction spread quickly, but the Springs Hotel was ground zero for the tangy cocktail. There came a point when the hotel simply couldn’t keep up with orders. It needed a source for tomato juice in order to supply its guests with their new favorite cocktail. So, area plants sprouted up in French Lick, Paoli, and Marengo, Indiana to supply tomato juice to the hotel and other bars across the region and, eventually, around the country. Tomato juice became a fixture on the commercial market by 1928.
Clearly, tomato juice had cross the Atlantic sometime after its first use at the French Lick hotel. Now, there’s no way to no for certain, but the New York Bar became a favorite haunt for writer Ernest Hemingway when he arrived in Paris in 1921, the same year the bar began to serve it Bloody Mary cocktails. The drink caught on and has been delighting brunch lovers ever since.
Although the Bloody Mary is reputed to cure hangovers, healthcare providers say that’s most likely a placebo effect (as in “the hair of the dog“) or a temporary life in endorphin levels. Placebo or not, the drink lends a zing to your taste buds and even provides you with a bit of nourishment. Most bartenders enjoy creating their own signature garnishes for the drink that might include celery stalks, shrimp skewers, olives, dill pickle, and, if you’re lucky, even bacon!
You don’t have to go to Paris to enjoy an early incarnation of the Bloody Mary cocktail. Save money and travel to the French Lick Resort, which still serves the hotel’s signature tomato juice cocktail with some slight tinkering to give it the tasty update it deserves. Bartenders add peppercorn, Worcestershire, tabasco, pepper vodka, and, of course, tomato juice, to create a cocktail you can drink like a meal. New Year’s Day and Bloody Mary Day go hand in hand, and there’s no denying this cocktail is a delicious way to begin your new year.