Highwood’s Bloody Mary Festival: A Bloody Wonderful Time

This week, we’re thrilled to have our first guest blogger, a girl after our own bloody-mary loving hearts, Nicole from Not Before My Tea. Grab a straw and enjoy her tasty review of the Highwood Bloody Mary Festival!

Hello my fellow Bloody Mary activists! I’m Nicole, blogger and fellow Chicagoan over at Not Before my Tea, where I blog about running, fashion, and life in Chicago. The only thing I love more than a cup of tea is a bloody mary at brunch (or anytime, really!).

Like the Marys here at Bloody Best, I’ve made it my personal mission to find the best bloody mary around. This pursuit has led me all over Chicago and recently took me all the way to Highwood, IL, for the Fourth Annual Bloody Mary Festival. This two-day event brings vendors from all over the Midwest to duel it out for the title of “Best Bloody Mary.”

Can you think of anything more spectacular than a group of bloody mary connoisseurs congregated for the sole purpose of perfecting the already faultless brunch staple? I couldn’t either! And because the Marys at Bloody Best couldn’t be there to witness the spectacle, they’ve let me report back on what I saw and tasted.

Short report: It was A-mazing. Perhaps the most ingenious human scheme since the invention of the wheel.

Long report: I saw some things at the festival that I had never seen before in all of my years of bloody mary escapades. This included some pretty outrageous garnishes, such as pepperoni pizza from the Savanna House in Wadsworth.


I have a small alcohol tolerance (and even smaller budget), so I couldn’t try drinks from all vendors. In the name of science, I strategized my samplings to include the most likely to “wow.”

The first bloody I tried was last year’s “People’s Choice” winner, Toadstool Pub. I figured that while following the crowd off bridges is a general “no,” bloodies were a different story.

My first impression was that the Toadstool Pub and the people who chose it knew their Marys. The bloody’s garnish alone straddled the line between “small snack” and “budget breakfast.”  The drink was topped with cheddar and pepper jack cheese cubes, summer sausage, green olives, bacon, and pepperoncini.


It’s hard to make a bad piece of bacon, but on a scale from McDonald’s dollar menu to Outback, this bacon was a ribeye. It was a maple-y, crispy slice of heaven. Unfortunately, that was this bloody’s shining moment. The drink itself was a bit watery and average at best. It seemed to be trying too hard to be refreshing, instead of embracing its true nature: a hearty brunch staple.

Taste: 2

Spice: 2

Treats: 4.5

Creativity: 3.5

Overall: 3

My next choice was based solely on the most appealing garnish. That led me to the Tap House, which lured me in with a skewer with bacon-wrapped brat and cheese.

Because it only boasted a second-place trophy from last year, my expectations weren’t too high. The drink, however, beat the odds and earned a spot above the former People’s Choice winner. The garnish was just as delicious as it looked, but the drink itself took center stage: it was thick with the right amount of spices, and a hint of something that was pleasantly reminiscent of my hometown favorite, Maryland crab soup.

Taste: 4

Spice: 3

Treats: 4

Creativity: 3

Overall: 3.5

For my last full-sized bloody at the festival, I had to go with the three time “Judge’s Choice” champion, Gabe’s Backstage Lounge (pictured above). I figured that if you can’t trust people who can legitimately include “Bloody Mary authority” on their resumes, you can’t trust anyone.

In my opinion, the only reason that Gabe’s hadn’t won over the people last year was its presentation. At Gabe’s tent, one would think that the only garnish available was an assortment of pickled vegetables (and when you’re three bloodies in, who’s going to pick carrots over bacon?). It wasn’t until I bought the drink that they pulled out the rest of the garnish from the cooler, which included ham, cheese, shrimp, bacon, and olives.

I had to hand it to the judges: they knew their Marys. Gabe’s bloody was definitely the best drink of the three, and might have been the best overall had it included a brat.

Taste: 4.5

Spice: 4

Treats: 3

Creativity: 3

Overall: 3.625

As the breeze got chillier and my vision got blurrier, we decided to head over to a local bar, the Silver Dollar Tavern, to watch the Bears game and wait for our train.  I figured that “one more bloody mary” is never a bad decision, so I ordered my fourth one of the day.

It turned out to be the best drink. (And even though most things seem good after three large cocktails, I can identify a truly great bloody even in my most inebriated state.)  Although it came straight with no frilly garnishes, the rich juice and the spices that the bartender added by hand, right in front of me, were spot on. 

Taste: 5

Spice: 5

Treats: 0

Creativity: 2

Overall: 3

The festival overall was worth every second of agonizing anticipation and public transportation. Not only did it offer samplings of some of the truly best bloodies I’ve had, it had something for those who were only there to accompany their nuts-o significant others. My boyfriend, a taco connoisseur, was entirely satisfied with what the Mexican food truck had to offer. And with Farmers’ Market food, live entertainment, and a petting zoo, even the Grinch would have had a hard time not having fun.

I’m so glad that the bloody experts here at Bloody Best let me share my thoughts with you lovely readers.  If you enjoyed this little slice of Nicole, head over to my blog for a bigger portion.  As for now, keep calm and brunch on, my friends!

Hope you have a bloody brilliant day!

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3 thoughts on “Highwood’s Bloody Mary Festival: A Bloody Wonderful Time

  1. Bill W says:

    I am sorry I missed it! I would have loved to have hit that up! Is it the same time every year?

  2. […] While you’re there, check out Nicole’s posts on endurance running, life in Chicago and young professional how-tos. Her wit and  charm will surely bring a smile to your day. You may remember Nicole from her lovely Bloody Best review of the Highwood Bloody Mary Festival. […]

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