The Best Bloody Mary in Town?


A friend asked the other night where I thought the best Bloody Mary in Rehoboth could be had. It’s not an unreasonable question, given my fondness for and prowess with this particular cocktail. Yet, I stood there slack-jawed, and not because some beefy shirtless Serbian bartender brushed by with a tray of drinks.

I could tell him that the Bloody Mary was one of the earliest vodka cocktails to gain fashion in this country and that aficionados love nothing more than to debate its origin. The King Cole Bar in New York or Harry’s Bar in Paris?

I could explain how the tradition of garnishing the cocktail with a celery stalk supposedly dates back to the 60’s when a woman in Chicago was served a Bloody Mary without a proper swizzle. The resourceful gal snatched some celery from a nearby garnish tray. Voilà, a trend was born.

I might claim that the best Bloody Mary in Rehoboth is the one I make.

But I could not for the life of me give him a recommendation.

Rehoboth has always seemed to me more a Vodka Cranberry kind of town. Actually, it’s a vodka-and-any-kind-of-fruit-juice-or-carbonated-mixer kind of town, so say two local bartenders. Classic summer drinks. But, as summer winds down and we enter what is known in the South as the high holy season of college football tailgates and Bloody Marys, what better time to search out the best in Rehoboth?

First up, the casually posh Back Porch. I was certain this place would serve a decent cocktail and I wasn’t disappointed. If you happen to be a fan of horseradish, this is the Bloody Mary for you. You’ll need to stir it between sips though as the mix tends to separate, with the spices settling like silt on a river bottom. They serve it with a celery stick and a wedge of lemon.

The Bloody at the Blue Moon was a tad lighter and a bit spicier with more Tabasco and less horseradish. I liked it, and I was particularly delighted that it came garnished with two fat olives impaled on a plastic swizzle sword. The downside is that the bar is virtually empty during the brunch hour and my tasting companion and I felt just a tad desperate sitting alone there with our drinks.

The gals across the street at the Seafood Shack make a real nice Bloody Mary and it’s a best buy at two dollars during their mid-day happy hour. They make their own mix and each batch comes out a little different, as it should. Rolling the tomato juice and vodka mixture around on my tongue, I could detect Tabasco, Worcestershire, and celery seed. I had to wonder if perhaps they’d also slipped in a few drops of Spanish fly, given how amorous all the ladies at the bar seemed.

Surprisingly, the mildest Bloody Mary of all the ones I sampled was mixed at The Frogg Pond. Its simplicity was quite appealing and the bartender provided some hot sauce for spicing it up. Another bar with a good Bloody is the Dogfish where they use their homemade Blue Hen vodka and go heavy on the cracked pepper and celery seed. I liked the spicy finish, but it left my tasting companion wanting ice water.

Alas, my quest wasn’t universally successful. At Finbar the bartender pulled out a big plastic jug of Sysco Bloody Mary mix and not even the use of Absolut Peppar vodka could salvage this salty and otherwise nondescript cocktail. From an Irish pub touting its hand-carved oak and mahogany bar and custom-built furniture imported from Dublin, I’d expected a little more. Heck, add a shot of Guinness and taut it as a Bloody Maureen. Just do something.

My least favorite Bloody Mary was served at Fins. The mix was thick and garlicky and way over-accessorized with a pickled asparagus spear, a pickled green bean, two olives, a wedge of lemon, a wedge of lime, and two straws. Gazpacho in a glass. A Bloody Mary should impart a sort of restorative quality to help you get through the day, not belch through the day.

You’re probably wondering where I found the best one? Shoot, it was no contest. In my opinion, the best Bloody Mary you can buy is at the Starboard in Dewey Beach. On a Saturday. Around noontime. They hand you a half pint of vodka over ice and then turn you loose among the bimbos, cougars, and half naked Abercrombie boys at the biggest, wildest Bloody Mary bar at the beach. The music is cranking, the crowd is dancing, and the drink options are amazing; I think I’ve heard that there are more than twenty types of mixes and 400 types of hot sauces. Condiments range from celery to okra to pickles. Anything you want baby, anything you need.

And that, my friends, is the true secret. Taste is subjective. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. The best Bloody Mary is the one you make yourself.

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Cottaging

There’s been a lot of cottaging going on in Rehoboth recently. And I don’t just mean the public indecency type, although there has been some of that too with several arrests according to the local papers. The police don’t know why this sort of behavior is going on this year. Still on the loose is a masked man who smokes cigarettes and flashes passersby. In Rehoboth this is cause for alarm; in New Orleans it’s just another photo op.

Seriously though, what’s the difference between this kind of public exposure and opening up one’s home on a cottage tour? In both instances you’re showing people what you got with the hope of inspiring them to do something.

I partook in the 59th annual Rehoboth Art League Cottage Tour, one of the organization’s primary fundraising events. It’s always held mid-week in the summer, so it’s not often that I get the opportunity to join a thousand other voyeurs in viewing the cottages so brazenly revealed.

The organizers did another good job this year, selecting a nice variety of well-appointed cottages for us to snoop through. And nose around we did, when the docents weren’t looking. I saw two women opening the drawer of a bedside table at one gay-owned cottage, hoping for something risqué, I’m sure. One older gentleman lifted toilet lids. A well-dressed woman with fabulous eyeware peeked into a medicine cabinet. Guys felt up bed linens and towels.

Amidst the questions about kitchen countertops and bathroom tiles, I overheard a couple of gals wondering about the difference between a cottage tour and a house tour.

I’ve always thought of a cottage as an East Coast term referring to a home at a summer resort, generally near a body of water. It can be grand or humble, old or new, but it must be first and foremost about relaxation and escapism. All cottages are houses but not all houses are cottages, and my assumption has been that cities hold house tours and resorts hold cottage tours.

Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood has an annual house tour. Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island hold a bay-to-beach cottage tour. Nantucket, which is most definitely a resort town on the water, has held a house tour for over fifty years. Lenox, a grand old resort town in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, runs an annual cottage garden tour. Blowing Rock, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, features a tour of homes. Obviously, things aren’t as clearly defined as I had imagined.

Referring to one’s summer home a cottage is a bit of an affectation, don’t you think? For a hundred years or so the word has been used, with remarkable aplomb, to describe multi-million dollar mansions in places like Newport, Bar Harbor, and Palm Beach. Owners, with names like Vanderbilt, Pulitzer, Astor, and Rockefeller, began referring to themselves as “resort sports” and “cottagers” and their neighborhoods became known as cottage colonies. They set the pace for the rest of the country, and newspapers and magazines gave extensive coverage of the social scene at the fashionable resorts. Folks in less glamorous resorts – like Rehoboth – followed suit.

Cottaging also refers to a way of life and there are a slew of magazines like Cottage Living, Coastal Living, and Delaware Beach Life that tout it. Cottaging is idyllic, it’s about days spent swimming, canoeing, and fishing, followed by cocktails on the porch or veranda and then casual dinners. Think rocking chairs, ceiling fans, and cool breezes. It means a summer away from the hustle and bustle of city life and an opportunity to renew the spirit.

But, what a curious word choice it is, considering the dictionary definition of cottage is of a modest dwelling and most folks just think of a cottage as a small house, period. In Britain, it’s slang for a public lavoratory and for disorderly conduct. Senator Larry Craig went a cottaging in Minneapolis.

Hmmm, perhaps there’s a clue here in all this to explain the rash of indecent exposures in Rehoboth.

You don’t suppose the culprits are acting out because they’ve come to our seaside resort in search of a peaceful respite of swimming and candelit dinners at dusk and then find themselves immersed among throngs of thrill-seeking tourists on the boardwalk?

No, it’s just absurd to think that a greasy pizza could lead to a greasy weenie or that a few oddballs are taking the cottage tour thing a little too literally. Clearly, though, something’s wrong.