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BLOODY MARYS AT THE KING COLE BAR by Niamh Barker

Posted in FOOD + DRINK By Maggie O'Sullivan

The King Cole Bar at the St Regis New York has featured in several movies set in Manhattan and there was a definite feeling of déjà vu as I walked through the elegant hotel lobby and into the bar. But there was no time to think about where I had seen it before: I was here on a mission. To sample one of its famous Bloody Marys. The King Cole Bar, as you may know, claims to have invented the Bloody Mary. And as Travelwrap is currently working on a collaboration with St Regis hotels, and as I was in NYC anyway, I thought it was time I sampled the real McCoy. Drinking alone is not something I do often. But I found a spot at a little corner table and almost before I had time to sit down, a bartender came over to explain the origins of the world-famous cocktail. The story goes that in 1934 a customer asked the St Regis bartender, Fernand Petiot, to make a vodka-and-tomato-based cocktail like one he had recently enjoyed in Harry’s Bar in Paris. Petiot duly complied then spiced the drink up a little more with salt, pepper, lemon and Worcestershire Sauce and called it a ‘Bloody Mary’. The name was deemed too vulgar for the elegant King Cole Bar, so it was rechristened the ‘Red Snapper’. The Red Snapper didn’t catch on, but the Bloody Mary did. Today there are 33 St Regis hotels around the world and guess what? Each one has its own signature Bloody Mary. Thankfully, at the King Cole Bar there were only six variations to choose from and I opted for the classic. Strong and beautifully presented, my Bloody Mary arrived with bar nibbles and as I sipped it, I sat back and admired my surroundings. The couple on my left were clearly on a first date: he the perfect gentleman, she, a young wealthy heiress… Well, that’s the trouble with sitting in a bar on your own – the imagination takes over. Across the bar, a group of young women were hitting the cocktails on a girls’ night out. It was just like a scene from a movie – another déjà vu moment. From where I sat I had a clear view of the magnificent Maxwell Parish mural of that merry old soul, King Cole, which dominates the room. The mural was commissioned in 1906 by John Jacob Astor for the princely sum of $5,000. In 2007, the mural received a $100,000 clean, which restored it to its original condition. I must admit, it felt slightly wicked to be drinking cocktails in the presence of such an imposing painting – a bit like drinking gin in the Sistine Chapel. As I said, when you’re on your own in a bar your imagination runs away with you. But it did feel like an honour to be drinking a Bloody Mary on the very spot in which it had been invented, and in its 80th birthday year, too. And the Bloody Mary? It was the best I’ve ever tasted, of course.

St Regis New York, 5th Ave at 55th St, New York, NY 10022; 01 (0)212 753 4500; website

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