The Bloody Mary at Beretta ($9) appears minimalist at the outset; you'll see no garnishes here, save a curl of lemon peel. But it only takes one sip to be hit by the layered complexity of this drink. Spicy, flavorable and super horseradishy—this is the bloody that horseradish dreams are made of. The drink itself is basic but a well-proportioned combination of lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and China Basin vodka, but the the tomato-horseradish elements really take it to a new level.
Don't bother asking what goes into a Bloody Mary at Zeitgeist ($8). If you're lucky, you'll be answered with a closed-mouth shake of the head. If you're unlucky, you'll get kicked out. Instead, just trust that the assembly-line of bloodies is set up for a reason—because they're good enough that you'll see hipsters, prepsters, and bikers (both the fixed gear and Hell's Angels types) drinking them all day long. I did manage to catch a glimpse of the enormous dollop of creamy horseradish sliding down the side of each glass, which was evident in the spicy, tangy flavor of the drink. I'll take some attitude for any drink this good; in the case of the Zeitgeist bloody, I think it makes it taste even better.
Not everyone is a horseradish lover. And for the bloody mary drinkers who aren't, Nopa has you covered. Their Bloody Mary ($10) is made with cayenne, pimenton, and black peppers, allowing for a spicy, tomato-dominated drink with no horseradish at all. The peppers make for a very different kind of spice, and the blend works well, particularly when topped with a pickled green bean and pearl onion.
A Bloody Mary made with whiskey? If that's not the way to punch your morning hangover in the face, I don't know what is. Particularly when it's whiskey handled by the good people at 15 Romolo. Their Bloody Hammer ($10) was easily the most creative combination I tried, and one of my favorites. Death's Door white whiskey, tomato juice, whiskey barrel aged smoked pepper sauce, and house-made Worcestershire sauce come together in a spicy, pickley-tasting mix. Topped with a pickled assortment (when we visited, fennel, asparagus, and carrot) and a five-spiced rim, the spice was at times overwhelming, but the overall effect was worth it.
Sam's Anchor Cafe
If there was an award for the best sail-up cocktail, the Spicy Bloody Mary at Sam's Anchor Cafe in Tiburon ($8.50) would win. Well mixed with an excellent tomato flavor, the spice in this cocktail builds slowly; it's present enough to feel in the back of your throat but manageable enough to continue drinking. The blend here is nothing revolutionary, but paired with some crispy calamari and a sunny day on the water, this bloody mary can be hard to beat.
Sam's Anchor Cafe
When it comes to soju cocktails, a bloody mary is not a bad way to go. The Soju Bloody Mary at North Beach's Caffe Delucchi ($9.50) is an exceptionally good example. Spicy and well balanced, I got equal hints of horseradish and pepper. Despite being a thinner mix, the bloody was still very full-flavored. Of course, things were improved even more by the perfectly poached shrimp perched on the garnish stick, and the excellent salt-and-pepper coated rim.
Cafe Des Amis
A Bloody Mary at Cafe Des Amis ($11) tastes even better if you order it at the bar. Evoking a well-lit French brasserie, the bar allows you to enjoy the cocktail for exactly what it is: perfect execution of a classic. A hint of horseradish and Tabasco gives the drink a kick without making it too spicy, but the addition of dill gives the blend a boost of subtle flavor. I loved the celery salt rim as well—it was another example of a simple choice that just worked.