When and where the bloody mary was invented is a matter of dispute. Was it Paris or New York City? Was it in 1921 or in the 1930s? Either way, the mary — a complex cocktail made with tomato juice, vodka and a slew of savory and spicy flavorings like horseradish and Worcestershire sauce — has become an iconic brunch drink. But, like any cocktail, it has evolved over the years — including in Cincinnati, where bloody marys have recently popped up on evening cocktail lists, proving bloodys aren’t just for breakfast anymore.
DIY bloody bars offer the best perks: Imbibers can add whatever they please to the basic tomato-juice-and-vodka foundation. Spicy bloodys are also gaining in popularity, and so is pairing marys with a beer back. Many bars around the Tristate make their own bloody mary mixes, which are so much better and healthier than those generic sodium-loaded store-bought ones (tomato juice is full of the antioxidant lycopene). And while almost every drinking and dining destination in town offers a version of the cocktail, we decided to taste test the new wave of bloodys and came up pretty intoxicated — and impressed.
Local 127 —
If you like things pickled — and I mean pickled everything — come to Local 127 on Saturdays between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. for their build-your-own bloody bar. You can get either Stoli vodka ($9) or upgrade to Grey Goose ($11). Local makes its own mix, which is a combination of V8, lemon juice, horseradish and spices; it’s fairly mild. One of the things Local does best is their in-house pickled veggie selection. (Ironically enough, they don’t seem to serve actual pickles.) You won’t be content until you pack your glass with fermented beets, scapes, green beans and celery and then throw in more than 20 hot sauces, garlic cloves, Old Bay seasoning, blue cheese olives, bacon slices and A1 sauce.
Return visits to the bar are highly recommended, especially for the bacon. 413 Vine St., Downtown, 513-721-1345, mylocal127.com.
1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab — OTR’s 1215 coffee lab/wine bar encourages day drinking, and since this place is always crowded on weekend afternoons, evidently the locals accept the challenge. Their weekend bloody bar isn’t as extravagant as Local 127 — they don’t make their own pickled veggies — but they have various jars of pickled goodness laid out on their back bar, along with 10 hot sauces, V8 juice and seasonings. If you’d prefer the bartender concoct a bloody for you, they’ll be happy to make it any way you like. And if you’re not an early riser on Saturdays or Sundays, you’re in luck: The bloody bar goes until 4 p.m. 1215 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-429-5745, facebook.com/1215winecoffee.
The Eagle — The bloody ($9) is a staple on their dinner and cocktail menu and also on their weekend lunch menu. So you can drink a bloody while eating one their fantastic Southern dishes for dinner or while nursing a Sunday hangover. After adding Tito’s vodka, Guinness and their own mix to the bloody, The Eagle adds a celery stalk, a skewer of kale, olives, house-made pickles and bacon — for protein. 1342 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-802-5007, facebook.com/theeagleotr.
Obscura — The fanciest and most expensive bloody in town, Obscura’s Bloody Obscura deconstructs the craft cocktail. For their version, choose between Belvedere vodka or the more adventurous Old Forester bourbon. The latter creates a richness, sweetness and warmth that vodka cannot provide. To make the drink base, Obscura boils tomatoes and blends in HP Sauce (a barbecue-like sauce), horseradish, Worcestershire and then drops an elongated tarragon-infused ice cube into a highball glass and finishes the cocktail off with a slab of bacon. For $13, it’s not the most economical bloody but, on the plus side, you get to sip it while sitting at a marbled bar top or in a posh leather chair. 645 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-421-3800, obscuracincinnati.com.
Neons Unplugged — Neons’ $7 bloody is the best deal in town, considering you actually get food with/in it. They use Hoosier Momma mix, which is naturally sourced and GMO free, and a house-made vinaigrette. But it’s the trimmings that make theirs the most innovative: They’ve been known to use leftover Marion’s pizza squares, sliders and a skewer filled with tomatoes, cornichons and mozzarella. Not only is their bloody healthy, it’s packed with so many food groups you won’t need to eat an actual meal. 208 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-827-9361, facebook.com/neonsunplugged.
Maribelle’s eat + drink — Maribelle’s eat + drink whips up a muy picante bloody, with light garnish. It’s served in a tall glass, so you get even more heat. It doesn’t come with a beer back, but for $3 you can order a Dutch beer called Oranjeboom to keep the fiesta going. 3235 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-321-9111, maribellestavern.com.