Fernand Petiot - 1900-1975

Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe

11:42 GMT // 4 Jul 2011

Almost exactly 86 years ago, Fernand 'Pete' Petiot set a record for beer drinking at Harry's Bar, Paris. Today we commemorate a cocktail creator with a sense of humour.

Most famous for creating the Bloody Mary, Fernand 'Pete' Petiot later presided over the King Cole Bar of the Saint Regis Hotel for over 30 years.

Today, his bartender successor Robert Albright says, "Petiot was a legend, a masterful bartender, and a mentor to those who worked under him."

Born in Paris, where his parents ran a 60-room pension, Petiot fell into hospitality early on, helping his mother in the kitchen. He joined the New York Bar, at 5 Rue Daunou, as a kitchen boy, when he was only 16, and was married at 18.

At the New York Bar, he progressed to the role of bartender, and set a record for downing beer under Harry McElhone. According to a 1964 interview in the New Yorker, he would go on to work at London's Savoy, from which Mary Duke Biddle head-hunted him for the St. Regis hotel.

Did he invent the Bloody Mary? Or, as it's called at the King Cole Bar, the Red Snapper?

The comedian George Jessel claimed to have invented the Bloody Mary, and Smirnoff used him to advertise the drink during the 1950s.

Petiot's grand-daughter believes Petiot invented the drink in Paris, and took the name from a customer named Mary who worked at a club called the Bucket of Blood.

The St. Regis Hotel attributes the drink's creation to a partnership with a Russian named Serge Obolensky in 1934. There are other stories too, but, notably, all involve Petiot as bartender.

When questioned on the matter, Petiot himself was on the defensive. "George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over," he said.

Petiot's much-improved version is clearly the ancestor of today's Bloody Mary, not to mention a relation to the tomato juice cocktail, a Prohibition temperance drink.

His recipe? "I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper and a layer of Worcestershire sauce. I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain and pour."

Over his time at the St. Regis, Petiot served drinks to many of the era's stars. He made martinis for Ava Gardner, Douglas Fairbanks Junior and Vincent Astor, and Americanos for Rex Harrison. He poured Scotch for Joe Di Maggio and served Salvador Dali his preferred mix of Vichy water and orange juice.

On Petiot's retirement from the St. Regis, he moved to Canton City, Ohio - his widow, Ruth, was an Ohio native - and worked at the Canton City Club, a long-established dining and drinking spot for the small city's elite, until his death in 1975. His many obituaries record him as the creator of the Bloody Mary.


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