Bloody Mary Bar How-To

Are we V-day hungover today? Perfect time for a Bloody Mary Bar? Yeah?

I think so!

I used to always think that Bloody Mary’s were the most disgusting things ever. I took a mouthful of V8 when I was young and immediately spit it back into the can. Adding vodka to that? And supposedly drinking it while hungover? Oh hell no.

But then I learned you got snacks with your Bloody Mary…on a stick which is so Minnesotan…and it felt kind of chic to order one. So, I sucked it up, placed my order, and tentatively reached out to sip the spicy tomato drink. One-word: Obsessed. And now I can’t stop ordering them!

Spicy and smooth and so, so savory. Like savory-bomb, savory. And remember when we chatted about savory, here and here? AKA umami? It literally translates from its origin, Japanese, to yummy. Basically, foods very high in amino acids trigger your taste receptors to send this delicious signal to your brain encouraging you to eat high-protein foods. And tomatoes? You’ve got it—high in the amino acid, glutamate.

Bingo—umami bomb!

You know what the upper Midwest serves with its Bloody Mary’s? A beer chaser! In a small glass. Ummm what? It’s called a snit! And they’re my favorite.

That Bloody Mary umami bomb I keep talking about? Well after a few sips we need to clear the palate a little bit. Here comes the bitter. A swig of beer gives your taste buds a swift kick of bitter. That bitterness mixed with the effervescence of the carbonated beer gives a nice contrast to the strong umami and heat of the Bloody Mary. Pretty smart huh?

It is actually rumored that us thrifty Midwesterners originally came up with the beer chaser after being forced to replace expensive vodka in our Bloody Mary’s. Right after that generation finished walking uphill both ways in a blizzard to school. The result was that beer became the liquor of choice for cocktail mixing. When vodka became affordable once more, the beer was not to be wasted and instead served alongside the Bloody. Or so it goes…

So this Bloody Mary bar! Is there anything more divine? Snacks and cocktails at all times of day. Totally acceptable from a social perspective and even encouraged. But how does one tackle the task? To start, that taste contrast of savory and bitter that I just raved about for a couple of paragraphs? Well the contrasts continue. Sour and salty and spicy all should make appearances at your personal Bloody Mary Bar. And don’t forget about a variety of textures—crunchy, crisp, chewy. They deepen the complexity of your drink while also just tasting damn good.

My favorites and explanations are listed below for optimum snack and cocktail bar enjoyment.

Celery sticks: epic proportions of crunchy. Also very fresh and hydrating (we need that water!).

Pickles: sour and crunchy. A must-have classic.

Olives: slightly sour and savory. Bonus—their oily nature prevents an overly acidic aftertaste in the mouth.

Lemons: citrus is necessary. It brightens up the profile of the Bloody and adds a different type of acidity.

Tabasco: extra heat. No need to say more.

Cheese: I think two varieties are necessary. Color contrast is nice, but additionally, the different flavors are wonderful in the middle of your glass. My picks?

Swiss: sour nature, mild dairy notes.

Cheddar: strong tang, salty profile.

Meat: not so traditional, but a great add-on. Only one type is needed. I chose a spicy soppresata. Hard, chewy texture with pockets of fat. Spiciness plays on the Bloody. (PS want to add sweet to the mix? Use a sweeter meat like a cured bologna—central PA I’m looking at you!)

Rimming salts: Highly recommended. My two favorites?

Celery salt: salt plus that concentrated celery flavor I have come to love.

DIY Paprika Sea salt: a mix of sea salt, smoked paprika, and a few cracks of black pepper. Punchy and smoky—accents every sip.

Beer, for serving: see above. But basically, any light beer will do. You’re not trying to compete with the Bloody Mary flavor. You’re simply using it as a tool.

And that’s basically it! I leave you with two words of advice before you jump off into planning your own Bloody Mary bar.

Keep things cold. Bloody’s taste best when chilled, so refrigerate your mix prior to serving, and stock each glass with a handful of ice before filling.

The vodka does not have to be anything fancy. You won’t be able to tell the difference between brands at this level of “adulteration” anyway, so keep it simple.


My Favorite Bloody Mary Mix

About 10-11 full servings

64 oz (8 cups) tomato juice—preferably not from concentrate

½ cup Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons horseradish

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons hot sauce—I like to use Tabasco

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. Combine everything in a large pitcher. Place in the fridge for at least an hour before you plan on putting the Bloody Mary bar together so that your mix is chilled.

The Basic Bloody Mary

1 tall tumbler rimmed with a lemon wedge, followed by a special salt rim (see above)

Handful of ice

2 oz vodka

Scant ¾ cup Bloody Mary mix

  1. Add the ice to the tumbler followed by the vodka. Fill the glass with the Bloody Mary mix until it is almost full (this will probably be a little less than ¾ cup of mix, depending on how much ice you have in the glass). Stir well to combine and chill. Taste and adjust liquor and seasoning levels as needed.

Spice it up (AKA accoutrements for your bar)—more explanation above

Celery sticks

Extra lemon wedges

Small dill pickles

Pitted, Mediterranean olives

Cheese cubes (I liked Swiss and cheddar)

A meat selection (I used spicy soppresata)

Tabasco sauce

Fun rimming salts

Beer to serve alongside (see above)

Don’t forget the basics!

Wooden skewers


A jigger (for measuring the liquor)

And obviously, more liquor



  1. Laura Soto
    February 15

    This is an awesome post, Kelsey!! The Bloody Mary has long been a favorite of mine (my dad and uncle always drank v8 when us kids were growing up so I think that’s how my cousin and I acquired a taste for all things tomato juice related). I want to do this bar soon with our friends, but since most are pregnant, it will probably be a virgin bar! Any suggestions on a chaser instead of beer for the preggos and those of us not partaking? I was thinking something like sparkling water (plain La Croix or the like) but would love other suggestions!

    • Kelsey
      February 15

      Hi Laura! Thanks for the comment :) you’re on the right track–I love a lemon seltzer because of the citrus and carbonation as a Bloody Mary accompaniment. Enjoy and congrats! I hope your Bloody Mary bar is fabulous!

  2. Girlfriend, you need to come to Milwaukee! We have some of the best bloody marys around and they garnish them like WHOA. Loving all this info! xoxo

    • Kelsey
      February 15

      OMG I would love to visit!! Missing the Midwest for things like this. And I bet the WI cheese selection on the Bloody Mary garnishes are out of this world! XOXO

  3. February 17

    This is a great post Kelsey! We have a new bar that opened up last year that does bloody Mary’s with all sorts of weird bibs and bobs on the sticks. One guy I was with ordered ” the roast Mary” and got a whole bloody roast chicken on a stick in his glass. Mental but I’m hooked on them now. After reading this post I understand why I like them so much. Have to set up a Mary bar like this next BBQ!!

    • Kelsey
      February 20

      That is quite the garnish! Haha thanks for the comment love :)

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