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Consider the French Martini, an 80s Classic Poised for a Comeback

These days, the word “martini” can mean many things. Though traditional recipes marry gin (or vodka) and vermouth, it has spawned countless variations, from the sweet-tart appletini to the caffeinated espresso martini and James Bond’s go-to sipper, the Vesper.

These drinks have little in common aside from their (generally) boozy profile and the vessel in which they are presented. But those two characteristics are all it takes to place them in the same overarching category, says Ben Potts, co-founder of Miami-based bar consulting company, Unfiltered Hospitality.

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“For most people, ‘martini’ references both the classic cocktail and anything that’s served in a cocktail glass of a particular shape,” he says. This includes the pineapple-forward French martini, which delivers tropical notes and a ruby hue.

So, What Is a French Martini?

Invented by famed New York City bartender Dale DeGroff in the 1980s, the classic recipe calls for vodka, pineapple juice and Chambord, a slightly sweet black raspberry liqueur made in the Loire Valley in France (hence the “French” reference). It’s garnished with a lemon twist.

The drink, which DeGroff describes in his book The New Craft of the Cocktail as “one of the sparks that got the cocktail-as-martini craze started,” was first introduced to the menu at restaurateur Keith McNally’s bar Pravda. Though the legendary watering hole closed in 2016, the French martini remains a constant at McNally’s legendary Parisienne bistro, Balthazar, in New York City’s Nolita neighborhood. These days, bartenders make it with Absolut Elyx vodka, pineapple juice and Lejay Crème de Cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur with a purer, more concentrated berry flavor.

It’s become an under-the-radar staple for good reason. “It’s light and refreshing and not so boozy,” says Potts. “I think it’s perfect for a pre-dinner drink and decadent for an after-dinner cocktail.”

He also believes these characteristics make the French martini a perfect substitute for the mimosa or Bloody Mary when it comes to weekend day drinking. “I think it would do very nicely as a brunch cocktail,” he says.

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A Return to 1980s Glory

Though this 1980s-era classic cocktail may have been superseded by a resurgence of pre-Prohibition drinks and the craft cocktail revolution, Potts believes the French martini is poised to make a comeback—much like the Cosmopolitan did in the early 2000s.

“For me, the rule of a cocktail trend is the ability for many bartenders to make it at their establishments—and can you make it with not the freshest of ingredients and still make it taste good?” he asks. “Just about every bar has the ingredients to make a French martini and, honestly, the pineapple juice that comes in the little cans is pretty delicious. “

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For innovative mixologists or home bartenders who would like to elevate or experiment with the cocktail, there’s plenty of room to riff. The vodka could easily be replaced with gin, or even better, rum—“pineapple’s best friend,” says Potts. “I can see making a fancy mixology version using clarified pineapple juice or topping the drink with pineapple foam or dehydrated raspberries—an elegant version could be made with a pineapple liqueur or a pineapple amaro.”

Regardless of the potential for dressing up—though Potts, personally, feels like the Chambord is a must to keep it French—this semi-tropical martini remains a mainstay among in-the-know industry professionals due to its balanced profile and inherent simplicity.

“I love three-ingredient cocktails as a rule,” says Potts. “The best bartenders can do magic with just three little ingredients. That’s why the classics are classics.”

Classic French Martini Cocktail Recipe


  • 2 ounces vodka (Potts recommends Grey Goose to keep it French)
  • 1 ½ ounces pineapple juice
  • ½ ounce Chambord
  • Lemon twist for garnish


Step 1

Pour vodka, pineapple juice, and Chambord into a cocktail shaker and add ice.
Pour vodka, pineapple juice and Chambord into a cocktail shaker with ice.

Step 2

Cover and shake until well chilled and frothy, about 15 seconds.
Cover and shake until well chilled and frothy, about 15 seconds.

Step 3

Fine strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
Fine strain into a martini glass. Garnish with lemon twist.