Drinking Wyoming: The Brooks Lake Lodge’s Insane Bloody Mary Changes Every Year

The bloody mary at Brooks Lake Lodge near Dubois changes every year. This year's version has a huge crab claw jutting unapologetically up out of it, along with a fist-sized, deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwich

Renée Jean

March 03, 20249 min read

Whether it's with a seafood theme of crab legs or comfort food like a corn dog and grilled cheese, the Brooks Lake Lodge bloody mary is memorable.
Whether it's with a seafood theme of crab legs or comfort food like a corn dog and grilled cheese, the Brooks Lake Lodge bloody mary is memorable. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Editor's note: Business and Tourism reporter Renee Jean, who spends most of her time traveling across Wyoming, spent a few days last month at the historic Brooks Lake Lodge. This is one of her many fabulous reports.

Every year there’s one thing Brooks Lake Lodge’s Executive Chef Whitney Hall can count on — that General Manager Matthew Tousignant will pay her a visit to announce that winter is coming.

In the fictional world of “Game of Thrones,” that’s an ominous statement, but at Brooks Lake Lodge “winter is coming” means something else entirely.

There won’t be any evil ice men crawling out of the snow to get anyone. But there will be a deliciously deranged cocktail, one Tousignant bills as Wyoming’s craziest, most absurd bloody mary.

“If it’s not Instagram-worthy, there’s just no point,” Tousignant told Cowboy State Daily.

To that end, Tousignant and Hall have a Pinterest board full of insane and crazy ideas for the Brooks Lake Lodge bloody mary.

“That just keeps growing and growing and growing,” Tousignant said. “And I always tell Whitney I want that bloody mary to be crazier than it was last year.”

Hall’s comeback, meanwhile, is always, “Let’s do this!”

Crab Island

This year, Hall’s bloody mary concoction has a huge crab claw jutting unapologetically up out of it, along with a fist-sized, deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwich.

It floats above the drink on a wooden skewer, right above the ever-popular fried chicken tender, back for an encore performance, in a presentation that Tousignant describes with hands waving above his head in an arc as “all the food in the world.”

There are also skewered cheeses and charcuterie, as well as candied bacon, pickled carrots and asparagus.

These are nice little appetizers, and there is the obligatory celery stick for stirring the drink as well — or crunching on, if celery is what you crave.

The whole shebang floats on skewers atop a mug full of a bloody mary cocktail that’s so large, it seems more appropriately sized for the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk than for any human being.

Whether you consider it lunch or brunch, the Brooks Lake Lodge bloody Mary is almost over-the-top absurd — almost. A short beer chaser also comes with it.
Whether you consider it lunch or brunch, the Brooks Lake Lodge bloody Mary is almost over-the-top absurd — almost. A short beer chaser also comes with it. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Arise Bloody Mary

Bloody mary cocktails have long been a legendary staple in the bar industry, regularly making the top 15 on Drinks International’s annual most popular cocktail list.

Various tales have been told as to who actually created the iconic drink that has become the standby choice for curing hangovers and serving a stellar brunch.

Among the most often-told tales of origin — true or not — is that one Fernand “Pete” Petiot invented the drink in 1921 at a famous Paris hangout for U.S. expatriates, Harry’s New York Bar.

The French bar hosted many celebrities of the day, including Humphrey Bogart, Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway and Rita Hayworth, to name a few.

According to this particular tale, Russians escaping the Revolution brought vodka with them to Paris, while Americans escaping Prohibition brought the canned tomato juice.

Some tales suggest Petiot created the drink primarily for Hemingway, who wanted a drink his girlfriend couldn’t detect.

Others say it was named after a server named Mary, who worked at The Bucket of Blood in Chicago, so named for the bucket of supposedly bloody mop water thrown into the alleyways each night after closing.

There are also rumblings that the drink was named after Queen Mary Tudor of England, whose nickname was Bloody Mary, but Duncan MacElhone tells a much simpler, less exotic tale in his essay “Essential Cocktail” that has a ring of truth to it.

In that essay, McElhone says Petiot told him about serving the drink to a lady named Mary who was often waiting around at the bar for a boyfriend who didn’t show up.

In 1934, not long after Prohibition ended, Petiot moved to America, where he took his tomato juice and vodka cocktail to the St. Regis Hotel in the real New York City.

There, customers told him they wanted more kick to the drink, so he added Worcestshire sauce, lemon juice, salt, pepper and a dash of Tabasco sauce.

At one point, the Regis Hotel tried renaming Petiot’s drink the red snapper. The owner thought the name bloody mary was too vulgar.

But perhaps it was also so they could replace what was then much more expensive and rare vodka with cheap and easy-to-acquire gin.

Whatever the reason, neither the new name nor the new choice of liquor took off.

Another Dimension

Others credit the cocktail’s creation to George Jessel, who claims in his autobiography “The World I lived in!” that he is the one who first made the drink.

According to his autobiography, Jessel got the idea for it after a softball-inspired drinking spree in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1927.

Jessel captained a softball team while he was in Palm Beach nearly every year, which usually beat all the other teams. But win or lose, there was always a big party after their series of games was over.

“Following the game, myself, and a guy named Elliott Server, a Philadelphia playboy, went to La Maze’s and started swilling champagne,” he wrote in his autobiography. “We were still going strong at 8 a.m. the next morning.”

However, Jessel and his drinking buddies had a 9:30 a.m. volleyball date to make and needed to kill their hangovers and sober up quick.

The bartender, a fellow named Charlie, offered them a dusty bottle with a drink called the “vodkee” as a potential remedy, which was really just an extremely old bottle of vodka.

“We’ve had this for six years and nobody has ever asked for it,” Charlie told them, chuckling.

Recalling that his future sister-in-law, Constance Talmadge, used to drink something with tomatoes in it to kill her hangover, Jessel told Charlie to bring some Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, and lemon to kill the pungent aroma of the dusty old bottle of “vodkee.”

“We’ve tried everything else, boys,” Jessel said. “We might as well try this!”

About the time they were downing this concoction, in walked Mary Brown Warburton, a member of the Philadelphia branch of the Wanamaker department store family.

“Here, Mary, take a taste of this and see what you think,” Jessel told her.

As she was taking a sip, she spilled the drink down her white evening gown — a bloody mess.

Laughing, she said, “Now you can call me Bloody Mary, George!”

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The Garnishing War Begins

Regardless of which amusing origination story one prefers, the bloody mary has secured its place in American and world drinking history, but when did the drink’s garnish start to eclipse the cocktail itself?

It was in the 1990s that people started to get really creative with garnishes, but perhaps it took the Internet to really take things over the top to where they are today.

Dave Sobelman, at Sobleman’s Pub & Grill in Milwaukee, recalls skewering a cheeseburger to stick on a bloody mary, and then posting a photo of it on Facebook with the question, “Have we gone too far?”

That sparked hundreds of comments. People really liked it, so he decided they were onto something.

That led to what he describes as a garnish-war, and in 2014, the creation of what might be the peak of absurdity for the drink’s garnish.

That’s when Sobleman’s started serving an entire, whole fried chicken floating atop 80 ounces of bloody mary on four wooden skewers, along with cheeseburger sliders and bacon-wrapped jalapeño cheeseballs, also on skewers.

It didn’t take long at all for the garnish war to spill over into other states. Minnesota, a neighbor of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is where Tousignant is from, and he told Cowboy State Daily the idea for an insane bloody mary drink is an homage to his home state.

Ever-Changing Outrageousness

The drink itself, meanwhile, is Hall’s own creation, through and through.

She experimented with a variety of different ingredients before settling on her own secret recipe for Brooks Lake Lodge’s bloody mary mix, creating a cocktail that’s just a little bit smoother, and thus more appealing to more people.

“There are people who come here just for my bloody mary mix,” Hall said. “And so that’s another added bonus to the unique little brunch thing that we serve.”

The crab in this year’s drink has long been an ambition, Hall added, but price had been a sticking point.

“Prices had just been outrageous for the last few years,” Hall said. “But, in doing some research, they’re not going to go down any time soon at all, so I was like, ‘Let’s try this and see how it goes.’”

The chicken tender, meanwhile, was an ingredient from last year that went over so well, Hall decided it should remain in this year’s drink.

“And then the little Monte Cristo that I put on there, I had always wanted to do a sandwich as part of the drink, but I didn’t know how to make it stay together,” Hall said.

Deep-frying the sandwich, which is slightly bigger than a fist, solved that issue, while candied bacon, asparagus and carrot pickles, and charcuterie and cheeses helped round everything out.

“I like to keep it fresh for people, too,” Hall said. “So that, every year, they’re not getting the same exact thing.”

Whatever shape the drink takes next year, the one constant will be Tousignant rooting for crazier than ever on a Pinterest board that’s larger than ever, while reminding Hall that winter — and fun — is coming once again to Brooks Lake Lodge.

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter