Much debate is often had about what constitutes the best Bloody Mary. For some, horseradish is mandatory. Others require a rich, sweet tomato-y base. Some opt for tequila, most choose vodka, and others want no alcohol taste at all. Because the appeal of this storied cocktail is so dependent on its imbiber’s specific sensibilities, creating the all-around “best” Bloody Mary is a major challenge for barkeeps and restaurateurs alike.
This weekend, though, 11 Brooklyn bars and restaurants–including heavy hitters like Pok Pok, Char No. 4, and returning winners Lucky Luna–will aim to prove their Bloody Mary superiority at the Bloody Mary Festival, a multi-city event-as-ode to the drink taking place at Industry City in Sunset Park. Organized by husband-and-wife duo Evan and Yunna Weiss, the festival, now in its second year, offers attendees the chance to sample purveyors’ recipes, enjoy a selection of snacks, and vote for the establishment they believe has achieved Bloody Mary excellence.
So, what does that entail? To find out, we spoke with last year’s title holders, Lucky Luna owners (and, full disclosure, close friends) Ken Ho and Marisa Cadena, who took first place for their nori-and-housemade-kimchee Bloody, a recipe inspired by their respective cultures and a mutual love of hot sauce.
“I think we just wanted to do something different and loved these flavors,” Cadena says. “And then some of the other ingredients with the hot sauces are inspired by the michelada, a spicy Mexican beer cocktail.”
It’s a combination that won the two “Best Bloody Mary” and “Most Original Bloody Mary,” but Ho and Cadena aren’t content to rest on their laurels; this time around, they’re changing things up with an entirely new approach to the cocktail. This year’s Lucky Luna Bloody Mary will highlight Mexican flavors like mole, with a concoction derived after much trial-and-error (Cadena estimates about a full day’s worth of R&D), at least 20 different garnishes, and extensive crowd-testing.
“[It took] maybe 25 hours — between the concept, thinking, garnish, rims, finding salt and pepper and Mexican chocolate, and all these other little nuances,” says Cadena. “I did a garnish tasting with some of my regulars who love our Bloodys.”
The result is what might be described as a community-sourced Bloody Mary–an interactive Bloody Mary, if you will. It’s an experience similar to what Ho and Cadena receive at the festival–“it’s a draw,” they say–which they’d use to inform future recipe development and “broaden [feedback], while sticking true to ourselves.”
“Maybe someone else has an idea or inspiration that we hadn’t thought of,” Cadena says. “I’m totally receptive to that because ultimately it’s for people, not just for us … It’s the people that matter.”
If you’re looking to join in on that conversation, sadly organizers of The Bloody Mary Festival say the Brooklyn event has already sold out. But stay tuned for the announcement of this year’s winner, and remember: You can always visit any of the participating bars and restaurants to try their takes on the classic cocktail.