A Bloody Mary Quest in Honolulu

The search for the town’s best Bloody.

illustration: vidhya nagarajan

For this “Best Of” issue, we went in search of Honolulu’s best Bloody Mary, and ended up on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. When it comes to Bloody Marys, we realized, we are bloody traditionalists.

We don’t care for the nouveau twists, the exotic variants or the Bloody Marys made with tequila and called Bloody Marias. We want the classic, smooth, fresh, balanced vodka-and-tomato-juice-based cocktail… a concoction that proved to be surprisingly elusive.

We found lots of disappointments, including watery Bloodies drowning in melting ice, burning Bloodies overpowered by horseradish or Tabasco, and misguided Bloodies marred by unfitting flavors.

The biggest disappointment came at the venerable and decaying tiki bar, La Mariana Sailing Club. Several people recommended the Bloody there, and we liked it. Then we asked the bartender what was in it, and he showed us a bottle of Dimitri’s Bloody Mary Seasoning. We had discovered a decent Bloody only to learn it was essentially made in Seattle. We summarily disqualified it.

At a windowless Waikiki sports bar called Rivals, we encountered a gob-smackingly hot Bloody made with wasabi and Sriracha. We found it unnecessarily exotic and too fiery to believe. So we had two more, followed by an evening of gastric distress. (Apparently, we had an unrelated 24-hour bug, but it has tainted our feelings toward Bloodies with wasabi and Sriracha forever.)

The most pretentious Bloody we found was also the most unpalatable. The teriyaki sauce in the suavely named Belvedere Mariyaki, served at Neiman Marcus’ elegant eatery, Mariposa, seemed OK at first sip. But before the drink was half gone the verdict was in—bloody disgusting!

After hitting dead ends at the bottoms of too many bar glasses, we reached out to master mixologists Christian Self and Kyle Reutner. Both, independently, said the same thing: Chart House Waikiki.

The winner! Chart House Waikiki’s
classic Bloody Mary.

photo: michael keany

Warily, we eyeballed the Bloody Mary that Gerry, a barkeep with a snowy white Amish beard and 26 years of experience behind the Chart House bar, set before us. It came in a short glass garnished with a wedge of lime, a pimento-stuffed olive and a celery stalk. We did not want to get our hopes up, so we focused on pessimistic thoughts, then finally took a sip.

It was exactly what we were searching for: classic, smooth enough to drink far too many of, and perfectly balanced, with the vodka hidden well within its tomatoey depths. The Tabasco sat within reach, for us to add as we pleased.

As it turns out, this is the very same Bloody Mary the Chart House has served since it opened in 1969. We bloody well hope it never changes.

Make the Ultimate Vintage Bloody at Home

Ernest Hemingway, that great champion of the Bloody Mary, described his classic recipe for the drink in a 1947 correspondence to a friend: “To make a pitcher of Bloody Marys (any smaller amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. … Mix a pint of good russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice. Add a table spoon full of Worcester Sauce. Lea and Perrins is usual but can use A1 or any good beef-steak sauce. Stirr. (with two rs) Then add a jigger of fresh squeezed lime juice. Stirr. Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper. Keep on stirring and taste it to see how it is doing. If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice. If it lacks authority add more vodka.” From Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961.