Look, anyone can make a mimosa. It’s got two flipping ingredients. Don’t buy the shittiest possible kinds of the two flipping ingredients and bam, people like your mimosa. But a Bloody Mary is an adventure and an art; a brunch endeavor that requires finesse, depth and balance. It’s easy enough to make a passable Bloody—throw some Zing Zang and pepper vodka in a glass—but another feat altogether to make a truly remarkable tomato cocktail. I’m here to honor those who have gone above and beyond.
In 2014, I drank approximately 75 different Bloody Marys—including a handful of Micheladas, that other majestic tomato-based eye-opener—on my ongoing quest to find the most perfect Bloody Mary in Austin. For what is an eggs Benedict, a French toast, a beef tongue hash without a fine Bloody Mary with which to wash it down? That’s just plain old breakfast, and you deserve better than plain old breakfast. You, Eater reader, deserve brunch.
Hi-Hat Public House
If once you had told me that a sake Bloody Mary would end up being my favorite in all the land, I would have told you to go stuff a pickled okra where the sun don’t shine. And that would have been very rude, because the best Bloody Mary in Austin is at the Hi-Hat Public House, a beer-and-wine only establishment that mixes a light tomato cocktail with a spoonful of garlic and herbs, heavy on the hint of cilantro. At $8 they’re not the cheapest Bloodies in town, but I always budget for two.
Blackbird and Henry
It’s not often that the first sip of a new Bloody Mary makes me say "wow," but Blackbird and Henry’s soft, sweet Bloody had me ready to reshape my top three local favorites within seconds. Garnished with pickled okra and lemon that add just the right amount of bite, the Blackbird Bloody is also available as a Michelada, and it’s just as good.
Downtown hot dog and Southern-cooking emporium Frank is, put simply, not fucking around when it comes to the spicy, meaty Red-Headed Stranger, their epic, bacon-garnished Bloody that comes in two sizes (get the big one, come on, who are you even kidding?) and with a Pearl chaser. Because Pearl is undrinkable on its own, I use it to extend the life of my Stranger by pouring it directly in the glass while I’m waiting on my second round.
It’s fitting that an Austin Southern cooking institution like Hoover’s would feature one of the city’s finest Bloody Marys, a light but tomatoey beverage that complements Hoover Alexander’s extremely serious, fried-meats heavy breakfast menu. At $4.50 the Hoover’s ‘Mary is tasty and cheap enough that you’ll want two, because that garlic salt and black pepper rim will keep you coming back.
The best under-the-radar Japanese spot in Austin serves a phenomenal Bloody Mary. At Komé, their sake-based, Sriracha-tinged Bloody is a stand-out at their weekend lunch service. Rich without being overpowering and spicy without requiring a fire truck, it’s the perfect beverage to pair with a hangover-easing bowl of ramen.
It would be a shame if one of Austin’s prettiest patio restaurants didn’t offer a better-than-average Bloody, but Contigo rarely disappoints, does it? Contigo’s Bloody Mary—which you can order with a variety of other liquors besides vodka, though I recommend sticking with the classic recipe—features a mild mix in a refined presentation (love their salted glasses), with the easy drinkability required for a lazy outdoor brunch.
Jack Allen’s Kitchen
Never let it be said that Jack Gilmore does anything halfway. Whether served with lunch, dinner or the brunch buffet, this extremely spicy, perfectly garnished Bloody Mary holds its own alongside the rest of the Jack Allen’s Kitchen menu, peppered (see what I did there?) with belt-buckle-busting culinary feats like the chicken-fried beef rib. (Ed. note: the Bloody Local is only available at Jack Allen's Oak Hill location)
A Michelada of some refinement, not content to drown itself in Clamato, the Mi Madre’s brunch beer cocktail is not going to please everyone in the crowd. It’s heavy on Worcestershire, limon, and spices and makes for a beautiful mahogany pour, notably different from its bright-red brothers and sisters at other Tex-Mex establishments.
I’ve never managed to take a picture of the Ginger-Wasabi Bloody Mary at the Alamo Drafthouse, because I keep my damn phone silent and in my purse or pocket during films just like every other halfway decent human being on planet Earth. But the Alamo’s Bloody is a thing of delicious beauty, delicately dancing between the distinctly, and differently, spicy tones of its namesake ingredients. Take care to specifically order this drink—the Drafthouse does offer a traditional Bloody, and it’s not nearly as good.
Look, the La Condesa Bloody Mary itself isn’t going to set your taste buds on fire—though it is indeed an ideal mix of spice and tomato—but the price will have you under the table before you finish your first one. At $2, they’re amazingly cheap and perfectly balanced, served in a spicy lime, garlic, pepper and salt rimmed glass.
A great garnish can send a Bloody Mary into the stratosphere, and that’s precisely what’s happening with the delicate but flavorful LaV Bloody. Garnished with fiddleheads, radishes and other homemade pickles, LaV serves a Bloody that you’ll be as comfortable ordering for grandma as you will for the most finicky of food snobs.
Like so many things at the best neighborhood bar in Austin (I’m biased, it’s my local, IDGAF), the Workhorse Bloody Mary is so much better than it needs to be. With a peppery jalapeno finish, the basic pour comes without Worcestershire in case there are any vegetarians in the crowd, but just ask for a dollop with yours and they’ll be happy to oblige if you’d like to meaten it up.
Attention to detail is one of the things that makes any trip to Hopfields enjoyable, but it ensures excellence in their sake-based Bloody Mary. Sake lightens up their thick, tomatoey mix, and the homemade pickled garnishes—again, with the garnishes!—make it an enduring winner.