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Chicago mixologists serving up eclectic twists on the Bloody Mary

By Kristin Larson | For the Sun-Times

Forget celery stalks and olives. So passe.

Everyone’s favorite spicy tomato brunch drink, the Bloody Mary, is popping up all over town with garnishes ranging from salami and sandwiches to fried chicken and waffles. And never mind the fancy glassware. This drink is coming in a Mason jar.

The St. Regis New York’s King Cole Bar claims to have perfected the classic cocktail in 1934 — arguably the most popular “Hair of the Dog” remedy (take note, recovering New Year’s Eve revelers), but Chicago takes the crown for the most diverse array and most creative adaptations of the famed Bloody Mary.

“It’s a show, it’s expected,” says Fadi Takouz, director of restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, who oversees Deca Restaurant and Bar.

Fancy accouterments aside, it’s all about the mix, and the tomato-spice-vodka balance, the basic ingredients in the drink, have to be in perfect harmony for it to taste just right.

“Whether you put a sandwich or a slider on the Bloody Mary, it’s still a Bloody Mary. The taste has to be there. Everything else is add-on,” Takouz noted. From build-your-own Bloody Mary bars to drinks bedecked with everything from sushi to the aforementioned chicken and waffles, here are five Bloody Marys in town worth sipping.

The place: Deca Restaurant and Bar, Ritz-Carlton Chicago, 160 East Pearson; (312) 573-5160

The drink: The Deca Bloody Mary, $16

If you’re looking for the perfect brunch cocktail to pair with your Eggs Benedict, this is the place.

The historic Bloody gets a modern update in the form of beef broth. “It gives it a nice component, and if you want more horseradish, more pepper or more hot sauce you can play with it,” says Takouz.

The Deca Bloody Mary (see recipe below) is garnished with three blue cheese stuffed olives, jumbo shrimp, a piece of crispy smoked bacon and celery.

There are still some who want the old-school Bloody Mary with celery and olives.

“The younger generation wants the twist, they want something nice to look at, they want people to look at what they’re drinking,” he says. “You do have some people who just want a simple, classic Bloody Mary in a regular glass and it doesn’t have to be in a Mason jar.”

The place: Sunda, 110 W. Illinois; (312) 644-0500

The drink: The Sumo Mary, $40

Topped with sushi and a grilled cheese sandwich, Sunda’s 32-ounce Bloody Mary, the Sumo Mary, is the monster of all Bloody Marys. Or, as Chef Jess De Guzman puts it, it’s like a trip around the restaurant’s menu — in a drink.

“It grabs stuff from the Chinese, from the Filipinos, the Thai and the Japanese. It’s how I describe the menu. We call it ‘New Asian.We take classic cuisine and give it a modern, contemporary approach,” he said.

At $40, it’s safe to say this is the priciest Bloody in town. But unless you’re a Sumo wrestler, you’ll probably be too stuffed to order anything else.

“It’s like an entire meal in itself,” De Guzman said. I

In addition to the grilled cheese, which has sweetened pork inside, the drink is garnished with braised pork belly, a roasted duck bao bun, baked snow crab sushi, skewered shishito peppers, roasted potatoes, lumpia, a Filipino-style egg roll, Chinese broccoli, bacon slices and pickled radish.

The place: Rockit Burger Bar, 3700 N. Clark; (773) 645-4400

The drink: Bloody Mary, $5 and up (depends on liquor)

Rockit Burger Bar’s Bloody Mary Bar, offered during brunch, features more than 30 hot sauces, artisanal and imported cheeses from Italy and Spain, salami, ham and sausage, shrimp, pickles, olives and celery. It’s like a mini salad bar for your beverage, so it’s no surprise it’s the restaurant’s most popular brunch cocktail.

“It’s like everything, you can’t just do a traditional burger anymore. Everyone is doing something to set themselves apart,” said Dan Kurtzman, general manager at Rockit Burger Bar.

In addition to the unique drink toppings, the restaurant focuses on having a great mix.

“It’s a house blend, it has a bit more spice, a kick. Heavy on the Worcestershire, a bit of A-1, we add some horseradish so it has a lingering burn and a secret blend of spices,” he said.

The place: State and Lake Chicago Tavern, 201 N. State; (312) 239-9400

The drink: The Morning Glory, a Bloody Mary topped with fried chicken and a waffle with a beer on the side, $18 (a classic Bloody Mary starts at $12)

A Bloody Mary topped with fried chicken and a waffle? Why not?

“It’s a showstopper and once people see it, it makes others want to order it,” said Pete Smiler, assistant general manager at State and Lake.

“The whole idea was to show off our fried chicken. And the opportunity to show it off came in the form of a Bloody Mary.”

The restaurant debuted the fried chicken Bloody Mary last spring. But if a mini meal in a drink is not your thing, the restaurant has a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar (as well as a Mimosa bar and holiday-themed Eggnog bar).

The bar provides plenty of fun toppings — from salami straws to stir your Bloody to house-made pickles, spicy peppers and an abundance of hot sauces.

The place: Twisted Spoke, 501 N. Ogden; (312) 666-1500

The drink: A choice of six different Bloody Marys, all starting at $8, served with a beer back

A leader in the Bloody Mary revolution (its secret drink mix is sold at local stores like Potash Market and Goddess and Grocer), longtime biker bar and restaurant Twisted Spoke offers six different Bloody Marys, ranging from the classic, “Road Rash Mary,” garnished with genoa salami, olives and parmesan cheese, to the “Bloody Maria,” made with jalapeno tequila and topped with chorizo, cherry pepper, pickled garlic and onion, to the “Great Lakes Tattooed Mary,” a rum, pineapple version served with smoked pork butt.

“We’re constantly tweaking them,” said Mitch Einhorn, owner of Twisted Spoke. “Twenty years ago, it was just tomato juice and a stalk of celery and vodka and we set out to do something different. We thought, why can’t you have meat on your garnish or pickled vegetables on top?”

Einhorn’s favorite?

The “Bloody Franco,” which isn’t on the regular rotation but makes guest appearances. It has a nutty richness thanks to a dose of Palo Cortado sherry. “Every time I make it, everyone says it’s the best Bloody they’ve ever had. The sherry pairs really well with the tomato characteristics.”

Recipe for the Deca Bloody Mary, courtesy of the Deca Restaurant and Bar, Ritz-Carlton Chicago


½ ounce beef broth

3 dashes of hot sauce

½ tsp. lemon juice

pinch black pepper

pinch of celery salt

¼ tsp. horseradish

tomato juice

2 oz. vodka

Mix ingredients and garnish with three blue cheese stuffed olives, one piece of jumbo shrimp and one thick slice of smoked crispy bacon and celery. Serve in a mason jar over ice.

Kristin Larson is a local freelance writer.