A dark environment offers mercy. When I'm not feeling so great, Small Bar (4628 Park Blvd.) is my first choice. I prefer my Bloody Mary extra spicy, but the bartender insisted it had plenty. He presented a glowing red Guinness glass full of flora and fauna—candied bacon, pickled green beans and a spire of skewered shrimp, stuffed olives, pearl onion and cherry tomato. I snacked my way through the glass, contemplating last night's bad decisions. The actual cocktail part of this drink had kick, but I would describe it as "peppery" instead of spicy. If you like the taste of cracked black pepper, you'll be pleased, but I'm more of a jalapeño or serrano pepper fan. Enjoyable, but even in my state, the cocktail was a little bit hollow.
For my next Mary, I sat at the bar at Great Maple (1451 Washington St.). Feeling perfectly fine, I ordered "Johnny's Hangover Mary." It's 20 ounces with a large hat of crunchy toast topped with melted manchego and Framani chorizo picante. Now this was a meal. Though less visually stunning than Small Bar's, the cocktail itself is exactly what I would want in a Bloody Mary—spicy, rich and boozy. The fancy toast was a bonus.
Since we're in a beer capital, I have to mention bloody beer. The first time I had one was at Ballast Point (10051 Old Grove Rd.) in Scripps Ranch when it was introducing its spicy Bloody Mary mix. Pair it with a Yellowtail pale or Smoke Screen lager and you have a craft michelada. You can request one in all its tasting rooms. Just BYOT (Bring your own Tajin).