Yesterday, 10 Brooklyn makers of the widely-worshiped hair-of-the-dog—the bloody mary—descended upon Grand Prospect Hall for The Bloody Mary Fest. For three hours, mixologists from Greenpoint and Bushwick to Crown Heights and Park Slope offered miniature (albeit bottomless), carefully garnished variations of tomato juice, spices, and vodka to hundreds of thirsty attendees inside the opulent Victorian hall.
We went to ensure quality control—which is to say drink and rank them. Yes, there were professional tasters on-site (judges from The Drunken Tomato, CEO of Murph’s Famous Bloody Mary Mix, NYC editors of Bitches Who Brunch, and the founder of Preservation & Co.), but we figured we should judge the drinks, too. After all, we love bloodies, we love brunch, and we really wanted to drink inventive mixes of fresh juice and herbs with alcohol, in a beautiful Brooklyn space on a Sunday afternoon. Here’s how ten of Brooklyn’s best bloodies ranked.
10. Hunter’s (Cobble Hill)
Let me start out by saying: no arm-twisting was required to drink any of these bloodies, every one of which was based in BleuStorm vodka. But not all bloodys are made equal. And the one from Hunter’s in Cobble Hill was made with some unexpectedly green ingredients: for starters, lemongrass (infused in the vodka), cucumber, and lime. These citrus- and veggie-forward notes made it the bloody embodiment of spring. Charred tomato, black garlic, Sriracha, and a garnish of pickled shrimp offset this effect somewhat—but not enough. I want my bloody to taste bloody, and by that I mean, spicy, with some heft, but not like a green juice from my local grocer.
9. Lucky Luna (Greenpoint)
I found out yesterday one thing I don’t want my bloody to taste like is Kimchi. Lucky Luna’s bloody was not only garnished with kimchi, it also included kimchi purée, along with the tomato kind. So it was Kimchi heavy, and its texture was notably thick. I did enjoy the Seaweed-sheet garnish; and the fresh-ground black pepper and shot of Valentina (my favorite hot sauce) added a nice kick. But ultimately the kimchi overpowered, and I’d rather just eat that with chopsticks out of a bowl.
8. Esme (Greenpoint)
Back to the fact that I want my bloodies to carry a certain spice and weight. This carried maybe no spice and almost no weight: lemon, lime, Dijon mustard, and celery seed spoke loudest in this drink. There was also Tapatio, black pepper, and garlic, but evidently not in great enough proportion. I would drink this recipe more like it were just tomato juice, kind of mindlessly. But when there is a pounding head to reckon with, I want my bloody to look at me straight in the face, and be the boss.
7. Travel Bar (Carroll Gardens)
Something you don’t necessarily want in your bloody is a garnish that overpowers the liquid. But that happened here: Travel Bar gave its bloody a garnish of banana pepper and pepperoni. A great combination! But so good that the mary kind of paled in comparison, and also tasted too much like banana pepper. After eating it as a garnish, the banana pepper juice that was also added to the bloody was the only thing I tasted. Fine, but more one-note than I’d prefer. Cucumber juice, horseradish, worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and “a secret ingredient” did not successfully take this lingering banana pepper note away.
6. Talde (Park Slope)
Things started to get exciting at the bloody booth run by Talde. Their Filipino-American mix was, first and foremost, smoky. It made no vague statements. It said: You need me, I make things better. With its wasabi powder, Chinese black vinegar, sherry vinegar, cayenne pepper, fish sauce, and even Guinness, your mouth and mind were left saying, hello, delicious medicine. Talde normaled it up a little with lemon and lime juice, olive brine, sriracha, and dill. But overall, this bloody stood out for being brave in strange and enticing ways.
5. Syndicated (Bushwick)
If you’re not out to make a statement, make something classic, and do a heck of a job with it. That’s what Syndicated, the bar and restaurant plus movie theater, did for its bloody submission. I could have drunk about seven of these miniature cups. They were so unabashedly straight forward that I pictured Jeeves serving this particular eye-opener to Bertie. It contained the Korean hot sauce gochujang, worcestershire, “secret” steak sauce, garlic salt, onion salt—a slight twist with banana pepper juice—and the best cocktail garnish of all time, the cocktail onion. Even its rim didn’t mess around: black and white salt, sesame and spices. Get to know the bloody you can drink all of the time at Syndicated.
4. 706 (Prospect Heights)
Remember how I’ve been like, “I want my bloodies to tell me things and mean them,” and “I also don’t want them to taste like a garden?” My opinion alters, slightly, with the bloody from Prospect Park’s delightful 706. The note that stood out most was—basil. Yes, an herb. But basil, as you know, is lovely, and it was balanced with a serious amount of spice, predominantly in the form of pepper. A sip of this will start out basil-y smooth and finish like a seasoned, salty (the character trait) professional. They round it out with lime and lemon juices, Worcestershire, horseradish and—also—scotch bonnet pepper and jalepeño, for additional little kicks. This number is a serious contender for a subtly lighter alternative to your weightier bloody.
3. Iron Station (Park Slope)
If you want to be a standout, you’ve gotta do something simple to make people remember you. Iron Station’s bloody ranked so high because it said one thing very clearly—”beef jerky”—and it was smashing. A beef-jerky themed bloody, you might think, is a dangerous game to play. But all things good in moderation: house made beef stock and bacon-infused vodka were the flavors you tasted—but they were mixed perfectly into a classic base of tomato juice, celery salt, black pepper, sriracha and the decked out with a candied-bacon and sopressata garnish. You want a bloody that reads “smoked meat?” Go with this one, and don’t be disappointed.
2. Catfish (Crown Heights)
Ok, things heat up here: We ranked the bloody from Catfish second-highest for two reasons: It was a novelty bloody that clearly read “Cajun party,” “barbecue chips,” and “heat.” I’m not really one for novelty, but Catfish pulled this off like professionals who like to have a really good time. There was beef bouillon in this puppy, and it managed to taste great; it was both balanced and challenged by Crystal Hot Sauce, horseradish, worcestershire sauce, a Cajun rim and—get a hold of this—a stout float. Nuts. But also: Party. And, lest you were in doubt about the fun times Catfish was trying to impart, you left their booth with a string of Mardi Gras beads.
1. Skylark (Park Slope)
Ding, ding, ding, ding! Folks, we have a winner. The bloody served up by Skylark was absolutely everything you want in a bloody and more, because while it played with the form every so slightly, it was still a classic bloody, admirable then for both its creativity and restraint. Its heat was three-fold—thanks to pepperoncini juice, Cholula, and Tabasco—and then enriched with A1 (who doesn’t love A1?! no friend of mine), horseradish, lemon juice, and a secret spice mix (secrets, in this case, seem to be fun, and work well), and then topped with the best garnish of all: a pickled string bean and a tiny straw. (This was the festival’s only version that came with a straw!) My friend loved this bloody so much that, in her zeal to drink it, she mistook the bean for the straw. We got to know the folks at Skylark’s booth well, because we went back four times. We advise you to stop by their restaurant at least once, and plan on drinking two, just for starters.