There are six words every bar manager in the world lives in constant fear of hearing, and one day my boss confronted me in the office and uttered those six words:
“We’re going to start serving brunch”
Brunch is a hassle. It adds another half day to the schedule, it’s hard to staff, and of course that meant I had to put together a list of brunch cocktails. And that required me to face my problems with that venerable old boozy brunch staple, the Bloody Mary.
I’m not the Bloody Mary’s biggest fan. I’ve always found whatever version I’ve tried to be overly heavy, thick, soupy concoctions full of way too many flavors, overloaded with spices, and drowning in garnishes. So while I knew that I didn’t want to put a Bloody Mary on my menu, it would be a terrible oversight to not offer the drink at all. Regardless of how I feel, people love Bloody Marys, and I had to give them one.
And then I remembered the national cocktail of Canada: the Caesar. Walter Chell reportedly created in 1969 the drink in Calgary, by Walter Chell, for the Calgary Inn’s Italian restaurant. While Chell claimed his inspiration to be the classic Italian dish Spaghetti aloe Vongole, it’s easy to see this drink for what it really is: a Bloody Mary with a dash of clam juice. That’s right, clam juice.
I’d heard about the Caesar for years, but never really ventured to try it. The idea of clam juice somewhat disturbed me, and since I didn’t like Bloody Marys in the first place, the Caesar wasn’t exactly calling my name. But I pressed on in the name of research, and lo and behold, I was very, very wrong.
The first thing you’ll notice about a properly made Caesar is that it’s light. Much lighter than a Bloody Mary—to the point where it’s, dare I say, refreshing. This isn’t some thick, soupy, tomato-based drink flavored with shellfish. The drink is zesty, bright, and dances on the palate. Now, I usually insist on using all fresh ingredients for my cocktails, but this is a notable exception. I’m sure that if I really did the work I could come up with a delicious substitute for a can of Clamato, but juicing clams doesn’t sound like the sort of work I feel like doing.
It’s been nearly two years since the Caesar first appeared on our menu at Clyde Common. It’s been there ever since, and I’m confident we sell more Caesars than any other bar in the state. Give one a shot this weekend and see if you don’t feel the same sense of pleasant surprise. You, like me, may never have another Bloody Mary again.
2 oz. vodka
3 dashes Tabasco
⅛ tsp. celery salt
¼ tsp. freshly cracked pepper
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tbsp. lime juice
6 oz. Clamato
Combine ingredients and pour into a tall salt-rimmed glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.