A proper Bloody Mary in Florence

Sunday means one thing–brunch and Bloody Marys. The essentials of civilization must be maintained, even where the Bloody Mary is not native. But we persevere. We found a proper Bloody Mary in Paris at a neighborhood tiny bistro around the corner from our apartment, in Nice at Wayne’s and in Venice right on Piazza San Marco, of all places.

In Florence, we already knew where to go–the St. Regis hotel on Piazza Ognissanti overlooking the Arno River. Rooms at the St. Regis start at 530 euros, and they offer car service in a Bentley, so they are safe from us ever staying there.

However, the St. Regis hotel offers a mighty fine Bloody Mary. Along with Harry’s Bar, The St. Regis claims to have invented the Bloody Mary. According to the St. Regis version, the drink was invented at the King Cole Bar in New York in 1934 but was renamed the “Red Snapper” for reasons of early 20th century propriety. Today each St. Regis hotel today creates its own interpretation of the Bloody Mary according to its region.

Home of the grappa-based St. Regis Bloody Mary.
Home of the grappa-based St. Regis Bloody Mary. The historic Basilica Ognissante church overlooks the square, protecting us heathens as we sip Sunday Bloody Marys.

In Florence, the St. Regis uses grappa instead of vodka as the base. And they add a sprig of rosemary as garnish instead of the more conventional celery stick (which we have never seen anywhere we have traveled in Europe). Grappa sounds strange for a BM, but trust me, it works.

We had tasted the Florentine Blood Mary at the St. Regis the last time we visited here, so we eagerly ventured out after enjoying Lynn’s expertly prepared brunch of fresh eggs and lardon (chopped bacon in American). And the St. Regis did not disappoint.

We were forced to sit in the book-lined lobby because the bar was closed for a private event: not exactly a sacrifice, considering the elegant surroundings. The Bloody Marys came out with a generous serving of savory nuts (almonds, macadamia and peanut, in case you were wondering). The libations lived up to our high expectations, and we told (perhaps warned?) the very friendly, formal staff that we would be returning next Sunday and the Sunday after that for more.

After enjoying what makes Sundays Sunday, we walked along the river to the Ponte Vecchio and joined the throngs of tourists milling their way through the pedestrian malls lined with Guggi, Ferragamo (both of whom are headquartered in Florence), Tiffany, Armani, Zegna and H&M. We walked through the smaller leather market there, where the goods are more expensive but do not seem any different from the long rows of stalls surrounding the Central Market just minutes from our apartment.

This is the smaller and more expensive of the leather markets. Those ties in the foreground are 5 euros each.
This is the smaller and more expensive of the leather markets. Those ties in the foreground are 5 euros each.
The market around Centrale Mercato stretches for blocks along all the streets surrounding the huge building.
The market around Centrale Mercato stretches for blocks like a spider along all the streets surrounding the huge building.

By now, conscious of  lunch, we pried ourselves into the huge food court upstairs without success. The Mercato Centrale food court is a favorite of Florentines and tourists/students alike. The place was as jammed this Sunday as it had been exactly a week ago when we first arrived. Even if we could have found two seats, there was no telling how long it wold take to order at the packed food counters. A simple pannini from a sandwich shop on Piazza della Independenza was in our lunching future. We’ll save the Mercato Centrale food court for weekdays.

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