Walter said that brands are created in the mind. Walter’s
reputation? You could say it was created on the Klamath.
Or maybe in the last few spicy sips of a boat-made, stomach-burning
The movie stars and senators, columnists, diplomats, rock stars,
and business tycoons who partied on the Klamath when the
docked ferryboat housed our San Francisco office in the 1960s
probably had trouble recalling the specific details of Walter’s
parties. But, headaches and parched mouths aside, they must have
opened their eyes the morning after the events feeling generally
good about the festivities, because they kept coming back. That is,
if they left at all.
When the office first moved to its home on the waves,
invitations were mailed to four opening parties: There were two a
day, morning and evening, for two days. There was a bar on every
floor of the ferry, and a band played as guests danced and sipped
highballs. And everyone had so much fun that they refused to leave.
Instead of four opening parties, Walter hosted one wild two-day
Walter was the life of the party, but he didn’t overindulge.
“Don’t make mine too strong,” he’d say, ordering one of his
favorite cocktails, a Bloody Mary, light on vodka. Besides being a
socially acceptable way to imbibe in the morning, one of the
beauties of the Bloody is that it can be customized easily to fit
each drinker’s taste. Bobby
McNamara, who worked for 38
years at Landor, once lived aboard the Klamath, and did
just about every job—including mixing drinks for lunches, parties,
and the daily five o’clock cocktail hour—tells me they called his
Bloody Marys “stomach burners.”
Drinkers in the states didn’t fill their glasses with vodka much
until after the Cold War. During the late ’50s and ’60s, vodka
became popular—mostly because of vodka cocktails. Businessmen,
mistresses, and housewives alike sipped sweet Moscow Mules and tart
Greyhounds, and calmed their hangovers with Bloody Marys.
Like all alcohol-soaked tales of yore, the spiced, red
inebriant’s origins are as hotly debated as the Tabasco in (some
versions of) the drink. A reigning tale takes place in the ’20s and
stars Paris bartender Fernand Petiot who supposedly created an
early two-ingredient version at Harry’s New York Bar (whether the
featured spirit was originally vodka or gin is up for discussion).
In another version of the story, comedian George Jessel is credited
with its invention.
Post-Prohibition, Fernand brought the Bloody to the states,
mixing it for customers behind the stick at the King Cole Bar in
New York City’s St. Regis Hotel. Legend has it that the King Cole
attempted to give it the less-grotesque name “Red Snapper” for a
time—but that clearly didn’t catch on. Over the years, heat and
horseradish, spices, and lemon were all added to the glass.
Today, revelers in sunglasses hunch over Sunday brunch tables
across the U.S. stirring Bloody Marys with everything from pickled
greens beans and celery to bacon, doctoring the drink to their
liking with Old Bay and clam juice. Or substituting Scotch, beer,
or tequila for vodka. The number of Bloody variations is as high as
the number of drinks the world’s hungover people downed last
And if Walter were here today, or we were still living back then,
maybe some of those people would be sipping their drinks on the
decks of the Klamath as it rocked gently on the waves of
the San Francisco Bay. And they might raise a glass to Walter, who
would raise a (not too strong) drink back in cheer and toast: to
great parties that never end.
Everyone has their own best recipe, but this is how my
husband, Christian, makes his “famous” Bloody Mary:
2 oz vodka
4-6 oz tomato juice
1/2 oz lemon (3-4 wedges squeezed)
1 squeeze of lime
2-3 dashes Worcestershire
1 bar spoon ground horseradish
3 shakes celery salt
1 dash olive brine
Tabasco to taste
Pour over ice in a highball glass and stir.
Garnish with celery, olives, cocktail onions, pepperoncini,
pickled radish, etc.
Bloody Mary image courtesy of Aurimas
(flickr); permission being requested.
Special cheers to Bobby
McNamara for sharing his
stories with me.