Petiot claimed that he invented the drink in the early 1920s while working at Harry's New York Bar in Paris, France, a frequent hangout for Ernest Hemingway and other American expatriates. (Petiot set a record in a beer-drinking contest at Harry's New York Bar on June 15, 1925, when he drank a two-liter glass of beer in 46.5 seconds.)
Petiot moved to the United States in 1925 and, after a sojourn in Canton, Ohio (where he met his wife), he became head bartender at New York City's St. Regis Hotel in 1934. One of Petiot's most famous regular customers was gangster Frank Costello.
Petiot worked at the St. Regis as one of New York's most popular bartenders until his retirement in 1966. At that time he returned to Canton, Ohio, where he bartended occasionally at Mergus Restaurant. Petiot claimed to have served drinks to every U.S. President from 1934 to 1972 except for Lyndon B. Johnson.
He died in Canton in early January 1975 at age 74.
Developing the Bloody Mary
According to Petiot, the first two customers for whom he made the drink "were from Chicago, and they say there is a bar there named the Bucket of Blood. And there is a waitress there everybody calls Bloody Mary. One of the boys said that the drink reminds him of Bloody Mary, and the name stuck."
Following his move to the United States, Petiot first added salt, lemon, and Tabasco sauce — now considered essential ingredients — to the Bloody Mary in order to satisfy requests from American customers for a spicier drink. The New Yorker magazine quoted Fernand Petiot as saying: “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today,” he told us. "George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over. 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."
In the 1930s Petiot tried without success to change the name of the Bloody Mary to the "Red Snapper."