Sunday, bloody Sunday 

The basic premise to a buffet is this: There's a certain freedom in choosing your own items. There's a certain joy to shoveling as much or as little onto your plate as you desire. There's a certain inalienable right to place the items wherever you want them, in the order you want them and to choose how much of each item makes up the entire plate. In other words, you get to do it yourself and to your own specifications.

If you think about it, that basic buffet principle, though most often applied to food, can also be applied to the Bloody Mary. Yes, the Bloody Mary, that wonderful vodka and tomato juice-based drink best consumed late on a Sunday morning. Seems simple enough in thoery, but guaranteed, if you put 20 people in one room, supply them with all of the same ingredients and ask each one to make the drink, in the end you'll have 20 very different versions of the Bloody Mary.

In fact, a Sunday morning can easily be spent in debate on this very topic: Tomato vs. Clamato. Chalupa vs. Tabasco. Pickles and pickle juice vs. jalepeno vs. pepperoncinis vs. the celery stalk. Giant stuffed olives or the basic pimento-filled? Celery salt or no celery salt? Spicy or tangy? Shaken or stirred? Really, it can drone on forever and nobody wins. It's why people routinely profess that you haven't tasted a Bloody Mary until you've tasted theirs. It's why almost everyone has his or her bar of choice at which to seek out a Bloody. Because everybody, including bartenders, mixes their Bloody differently.

The Townhouse Lounge in Manitou, however, has come up with a unique approach to accommodate Bloody Mary lovers, thus avoiding the my-way-or-the-highway approach. Using the simple buffet principle discussed above, they've set up a do-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar.

For $2 (per trip) you get a 10-oz. glass with ice and a shot of vodka ($2.50 if you want top shelf). From then on out, you're the captain. The Townhouse simply provides for you a giant table of fixins'.

Beginning with the basics, there are four juices from which to choose: plain tomato, Clamato, Clamato Caesar (spicy) or V8.

Once you have your chosen juice, you are then ready to move on to what I like to call the section of heat and flavor. These items are the heart and soul of your Bloody Mary. And most importantly, you are in control. Let your personal style shine.

The items in this section are many and diverse. There's the basic Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. In addition to the Tabasco, three other hot sauces, with varying degrees of hot, are offered. Note: If you like heat, go for the one in the red bottle. In addition, there are the mandatory but very key basics of salt, pepper, celery salt and horseradish.

Finally, there are the garnishes. Some say a Bloody Mary really isn't a Bloody Mary until it's garnished properly. Properly is a very subjective term in this case, and a fact not lost on the folks at the Townhouse. Their garnish selection speaks volumes, but mostly says, "Go hog-wild."

For those who hail from the olive school of garnishing, you have several options. For the traditionalist, there are the basic black or green olive selections. Those feeling a bit more decadent can opt for the giant stuffed olives, with either garlic or jalepeno. Or mix and match. It's fun.

Pickle spears, celery stalks and pepperoncinis round out the garnish selection, offering variety yet keeping things traditional and in the realm of not too much, but just enough.

Owners Roger and Linda Stahlak confess that the Bloody Mary bar was not actually their idea, but a suggestion from a friend of theirs who had seen something similar in another state. Either way, they say it's been a great success, and more importantly, has put an end to the great Bloody Mary debate.

The Townhouse's Bloody Mary bar begins Sunday, Sept. 10, and runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Watch for those hours to expand sometime in October from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the addition of breakfast.



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