Bloody Good: Rising and shining with bodacious Bloody Marys

Like cures like – or at least that's what they've said for centuries. The medical jury's still out on this claim, but in the meantime we say drink up come morning. Remedies for what ails your aching head run the gamut from a touch piquant to hot-hot-hot. And it's not just vodka that's for breakfast anymore.

Sidle up to the bar
On Sunday mornings in St. Louis, the Bloody Mary bar at The Scottish Arms draws a mixed crowd. Some partakers belong to the after-church rush, while others are revelers resurrecting after a late night out. Both sets get a righteous pick of fixings. The Arms' spread features a rotating selection of at least 10 garnishes at a time and includes several that bite, such as spicy Thai peppers. Also find plenty of pickled options (okra, asparagus, ginger, garlic, Japanese radishes) that come from The Arms' sister restaurant The Shaved Duck in the Tower Grove East neighborhood. Anyone hitting the sauce can choose from mild things (i.e., the Jamaican classic Pickapeppa) and wild things (i.e., the cayenne-based Tiger Sauce).

Weekend brunchers may also be their own bartenders at Brandt's Café in The Delmar Loop. Pepperoni and cherry tomatoes let Bloody Mary fans make a snack out of it, although the most popular items typically have more kick. "If it's got some heat to it, people go to town," said manager Scotty Wayne. A solid dollop of wasabi certainly does have a way of opening even the groggiest of eyes.

Celery is so 1921
"People want a Bloody Mary that's not just a drink; they want it to be an event," said Greg Doyle, general manager of downtown's Mosaic Modern Fusion Restaurant. Garnishes have indeed come a long way since Pete Petiot served the first Bloody Mary at a Parisian bar back in 1921.

At Mosaic, you can build a Bloody Mary from the comfort of your own barstool. Fill up on rock shrimp, habañero- and tomatillo-stuffed olives along with long strips of andouille sausage that can stand in for traditional celery stalks. SqWires Restaurant in Lafayette Square also offers a series of substantial embellishments, such as dilled cauliflower, baby corn and olives stuffed with salami.

Of course, the granddaddy garnish of them all is at The Shaved Duck, where bar manager Patrick Thomas tops his Bloody Mary riff, The Breakfast of Champions, with a pickled quail's egg, a pickled potato piece and a strip of bacon jerky. Drink your breakfast already.

All in the mix
Get beyond the basic Bloody Mary mix at establishments such as downtown's Hair of the Dog. Co-owner Dominic Bruening, a self-confessed spiceaholic, doctors up the ubiquitous Zing Zang mix with sriracha sauce, celery salt, black pepper, Worcestershire, olive juice, pepperoncini juice and one special ingredient he left unnamed.

The secret weapon in SqWires' from-scratch mix is cayenne pepper. The Shaved Duck's house-made concoction turns up the heat with Thai chile paste, horseradish and garlic flavors that blend well with fennel-seed-and-sage-infused vodka. "I thought classic sausage spices would go well with the Bloody Mary," Thomas said.

Cocktails and cuisine likewise overlap at Café Natasha's Kabob International on South Grand Boulevard, where a six-component spice blend shuttles between the bar and the kitchen, giving the Bloody Marys savory flair and satisfying grit. Earthy-but-airy and lemony sumac is floated on top and added to the rim along with salt. "In Persian food, there's a spice called advieh. It's a savory spice, but it has a sweet undertone, and I was trying to re-create something like that," explained co-owner Natasha Bahrami.

Some like it hot
When you're hot, you're hot. Take Endorphin Rush, for example, which taunts the adventurous from behind the bar at Mosaic. Just one dab of this sauce ignites a fire that burns for about 20 minutes. Can you stand the heat? Loaded with sriracha and Valentina (two relentless hot sauces from Vietnam and Mexico, respectively), the Bloody 'Ell at downtown's Rooster is another tasty dare, although the most infernal challenge in town may well be the 3 Alarm Bloody Mary at Café Eau in the Central West End. In and of itself, the soupy, house-made mix isn't fiery, just spicy. Habañero-infused vodka, however, makes this Bloody Mary riff a force to be reckoned with, by leaving just one liter of vodka to hold its own against three scorching peppers. (Manager John Wiseman originally made the infusion even stronger, but has since toned it down; apparently, not everyone likes it as hot as he does.) The 3 Alarm's blaze travels like a two-speed boomerang. First it rushes to the back of the throat, and then it slowly diffuses forward in repeated waves, pricking and tingling all the way to the tip of your top lip.

In other words, quite the pick-me-up.

Mary, Maria, Marie
For your pick of poisons, head to Cielo at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. Tequila turns Mary into Maria. A splash of Pernod rechristens her as Marie. Beer appears on Cielo's Bloody Mary menu twice. The comforting Chelada has Corona, Worcestershire and Tabasco, while the Calgary Red Eye puts a spin on a Canadian fave by pairing Clamato with Budweiser in lieu of Labatt Blue. These beer-based Bloody Marys go down easier than their vodka counterparts, said restaurant and bar manager Stephen Wancha, adding that liquor-less versions are the "hangover kinds of ones that bring you back to life."

There's plenty of living to do at Rooster too. Eleven Bloody Mary riffs (look for an expanded selection in 2009, said owner David Bailey) all use a house-made mix that contains an ambitious 17 ingredients. Among the boozes used are rum, whiskey and sake. Even the long-elusive absinthe pops up, leaving an herbal explosion in its wake. Should you need a little meat to counteract all this midmorning alcohol, add some house-cured teriyaki beef jerky to your garnish. Cheers ... and bon appétit.