So who was bloody Mary?

A cocktail of legends

Each week we’re offering you a quick peep inside the Midnight Trains universe, and all throughout September, we’ve been introducing you to several members of our team. Now we’ll be helping you familiarise yourself with the atmosphere you can expect on board.

Because we want the journey to start as soon as you leave the train station, we’ll be offering travellers a complete experience where art de vivre reigns supreme – that’s one of our guiding principles and will be our focus as we bring Midnight to fruition over the next two or three years. You’ll have the chance to soak up even more of the vibes in advance via articles which will be published on our blog (which will be launched imminently).

So this week, we’ll be taking you to the most convivial of places on board: the restaurant carriage, where you’ll be able to sit down to dine or simply pull up a stool at the bar and drink a glass of natural wine or a homemade cocktail. And if there’s one cocktail we really want to serve you – and not without putting our own original spin on it – it’s the Bloody Mary, this subtle concoction comprising vodka, tomato juice, tabasco and lemon juice.

Bloody Mary. What a bizarre name for a beverage that’s supposed to relax you a little. In fact, no one is capable of explaining with certainty the origin of Mary’s reputed bloodthirstiness or murderous tendencies. However, there are a fair few theories out there.

The first sort may put you off ever wanting to order one, so let’s get them out the way now. According to these legends, Bloody Mary did exist, and the cocktail is an homage to her macabre deeds. In one theory, it could pay reference to a mother who killed her own child (and acquired a quite predictable nickname), or just as morbidly, it could be Mary Tudor, Queen of Scotland, whose reign in the sixteenth century was marked by methodical violence towards her enemies. But those really aren’t the versions of the story we prefer.

Slightly funnier is the theory that attributes the genesis of this cocktail to Ernest Hemingway, a writer almost as well known for propping up bars as for writing masterpieces of the English language. Several of his go-to hangouts have today become tourist attractions in Paris, Havana, Alassio, Venice and Lima. He suffered from alcoholism, basically, and unfortunately never had the support (or ever really tried) to combat it.

But this is the reason he had a special relationship with Bloody Mary. During the period he lived in Paris, Ernest Hemingway had a habit of hitting up the Ritz bar, which didn’t much please his wife, Mary Welsh, exhausted from seeing her husband come home late every night (and unfailingly out of his mind). Fed up with the tellings-off he was subject to every night, Ernest Hemingway came up with a canny ploy, asking the barman of the prestigious hotel to come up with an odourless recipe for him. The Bloody Mary – bloody Mary! – was born. We’re not so sure the trick would have actually worked, though.

As always when a legend muddies the real origins of a given story, it’d probably be wise to opt for the more pragmatic versions of the tale. And in this case, it’s very possible that the real creator of the Bloody Mary was none other than Harry MacElhone, who founded Harry’s New York Bar in 1911.

During the Prohibition, bars were closing one after the other all over the USA, leaving barmen without jobs. Europe then became a big draw. Here they could continue doing their job, and so this was the time cocktails bars started popping up all over the continent. Harry’s New York Bar was one of the best examples. A new life meant new recipes, and Bloody Mary was simply an idea that came about when Harry set about developing the menu for his bar. And as for the name? His Scottish origins may well be behind the choice of Mary.

While you still have a little while to wait before you can enjoy our restaurant-car, we’d definitely recommend popping along to this mythical bar to try the concoction for yourself (in moderation, of course). As it happens, Harry’s New York Bar, right in the centre of Paris, has just marked its 110th anniversary. Go and celebrate with them.

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