The Best Bloody Marys in San Francisco
Guest Post By Molly Sanchez
After the San Francisco Bloody Mary Festival I needed a cold shower. It wasn’t just that some of the cocktails were orgasmic (they were) or that I went to the fest with a head cold and a fever (I did): it was more that the venue was warm and the drinks were spicy and after downing 13 of the city’s best Marys, mama needed to cool down.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The San Francisco Bloody Mary Festival is part of a larger network that holds festivals all over the U.S. in place like Brooklyn, D.C, and Denver. 12 local vendors compete for the 3 prizes, Best Traditional Recipe, Best Original Recipe, and the coveted People’s Choice. I got a chance to judge this auspicious festival, and so armed with an assistant, a camera and an ill advised serving of Dayquil I set forth to find the city’s best bloody.
Sponsored by Marz vodka, each Mary brought something special to the table. Some peacocked with fancy garnish. The best example of this came from The Dorian (Cow Hollow). This Mary was topped with a garnish of crisp salmon skin, a fresh cucumber taco-ed around local trout eggs, and finished with a crisp rim of Bovino jerky. The jerky was the MVP of this drink. Where most jerkies are rubbery, Bovino’s recipe is crisp and crunchy. I described it as a “meat chip” and got a wink from jerky maker and Dorian bar tender, Jacob. “That’s what we’re going for baby, “ he said expertly pouring another.
Festival patrons munched on breakfast food as they browsed (shout out to the fried green tomato BLT/E) which was a good way to sop up some of the vodka and tomato juice we were plying ourselves with before noon. More herbaceous Marys like the one at 1760 (Nob Hill) were great antidotes to the soupier options. 1760, known for their offbeat Mary mixes(last year they had a green strawberry offering) made a light, drinkable almost Pimm’s cup of a Bloody garnished with olive, onion and a spring of thyme. By the end of the day I’d eaten about 16 olives, 12 onions, about three entire stalks of pickled asparagus and some odds and ends of meat. If my doctor asks I had a salad.
In the category of Best Original Mary there were some truly bizarre standouts. There was the green Mary from Nido (Oakland) made with dinosaur kale, Serrano peppers, jalapeño, and other green ingredients to part the red sea of the festival. While the over all taste was more Pico de Gallo than Bloody Mary it paired nicely with the garnish of Chicharrone and tortilla chip. Another stand out was the cocktail from 54 Mint, which was an heirloom tomato Mary with Buffalo Mozzarella foam like the gorgeous lovechild of a Frappachino and a pizza. The offering from Plum Bar and Restaurant (Oakland) made from clarified tomato juice and celery bitters was almost completely clear and tasted like something Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec would order at a bar. Pair with chicky chicky parm parm and long ass rice.
Still in a sea of fancy Marys the drink from Finnegan’s Wake (Haight/Filmore) was traditional yet perfect in a way that made it stand out from the fancier options all around us. If some of the other Marys were flashy and showy, the perfectly spicy, viscous and well garnished Bloody Mary from Finnegan’s Wake is the girl next door before and after she takes off her glasses to go to the party. I gave them a ten out of ten for traditional Marys.
The mélange of yellow and red tomatoes, mango, and spices in the bloody from Five (Berkeley) made it my pick for the original Mary category. It was the perfect blend of salty and sweet and the pickled mango garnish reminded me of the treats I used to buy from the abuelas pushing shopping carts during my So Cal childhood. The pulpy sweetness made this cocktail basically Jamba Juice’s wilder sister. The kind that would tell your parents you were going to the mall but really take you to smoke behind the Dairy Queen.
Honorable mention goes to the mix from Proud Mary. Had this Indian spiced jarred mix been on my judging ballot I would have given it a perfect 10. As is, I almost Jill Stein-ed that ish and wrote it in, it’s that perfect.
The basic takeaway from this fest (other than NEVER mix Dayquil with vodka) is, when making a Mary, stick to the Coco Chanel rule when it comes to garnish: always take one bit off before you’re ready to go.
And so, with holes in my stomach and a beer in my shower, I have to say I can’t wait til next year’s SF Bloody Mary Fest!