Although the history of the Bloody Mary invention is somewhat disputed, most people agree that the St. Regis in New York City is the American birthplace of this signature cocktail, which they call the “Red Snapper”. This credit goes to Fernand Petiot, a bartender at the St. Regis Hotel, who originally came up with the drink while working at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, France in the early 1920’s. He moved to the U.S. in 1925 and became head bartender at the St. Regis in 1934, bringing his creation with him.
With only a mere 48 hours to hit some iconic NYC food stops — combined with the snow on the ground and what seemed like hurricane force winds when we landed on Saturday night — I had to choose my picks wisely. On the top of the list was trying the famed Red Snapper aka Bloody Mary at the King Cole Bar inside the St. Regis.
Sadly, packing for a six week trip that included scuba diving in the Caribbean and two formal nights on a ship didn’t leave a lot of room for heavy winter clothes for a couple days on the East Coast. In my last minute efforts to pack, I only brought a couple pairs of shoes — flip flops, open toe high heel shoes and white sneakers — all “perfect” choices for NYC in the snow. Brilliant!
Surprisingly, we weren’t instantly booted by the tuxedo donning doormen at the St. Regis (thank you!), but I still wouldn’t recommend showing up in white sneakers!
The King Cole Bar sits to the left of the main lobby doors, behind the Astor Court. We had arrived around noon (about 1/2 hour after opening) on Tuesday and were surprised to see it fairly crowded, with some tables already finished with food and drinks. We snagged a quiet table for two in the corner — behind a pillar — in hopes I would not be too distracting when I snapped my photos. (Apologize in advance for the grainy & fuzzy photos in this post — did not want to use the flash in such an intimate and crowded environment.)
Do you know how the upscale lounge got its name? A giant 25 foot mural hangs behind the bar — painted by renowned 20th century painter Maxfield Parrish. After making its way around a few NYC hotels, it found its permanent home in the 1930’s at the St. Regis. The mural is definitely the focal point of the bar — there’s absolutely no chance of missing it, unless you walk with your head always to the ground.
Although a regal bar, the ambiance was comfortable. A family sat to our left chatting about their day and potential menu choices, while an older, astute gentleman sat at the bar, enjoying a hearty breakfast. Shortly thereafter, a single woman came in to the bar and both the gentleman and bartender greeted her by first name. These were definitely the New York locals in the know — the ones who escape for a lunch getaway at their favorite haunt, know the best spots in the City, and have built a rapport with the staff.
Foodwise, the bar menu is small, but provides a good sampling of things to try. The drink menu is comprehensive, but you are probably not going to find Red Snapper or Bloody Mary listed on it. Ask the server for a Red Snapper and you will be well-taken care of.
The Red Snapper comes served in a stemmed wine style glass. Don’t underestimate its size — this drink packs a punch (just ask the table next to us who needed more tomato juice added). Thankfully, we had ordered the Mediterranean sampler ($19) that came with prosciutto, aged cheese, olives, and a few pieces of toasted baguette.
According to legend, the original Red Snapper recipe does not have horseradish — instead, the bottom of the shaker includes four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce. A dash of lemon juice is added along with some cracked ice, two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, then you shake, strain, and pour.
Since I had a plane to catch later in the afternoon, we only had time for one drink — a smart idea given that Brett had to drive me to the airport as well. We asked for the bill and were not far off in our guess at the price of the drinks — the Red Snapper will set you back $20 each. It’s actually not too bad for NYC and a luxury hotel bar. And hey, you get a souvenir postcard of the King Cole mural when the server brings your bill.
King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel, New York City:
Two East 55th Street, at Fifth Avenue
New York, New York, 10022
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:30am – 1:00am; Friday – Saturday 11:30am – 2:00 am, Sunday 12:00pm – 12:00am. Bar menu is available until midnight.