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.