A Conversation with Ms. Franky Marshall

Portrait of Ms. Franky Marshall
Ms. Franky, pictured in her element at Le Boudoir for Bit By A Fox's Bartender Style series. (Photo: Rose Callahan and Bit By A Fox)

The world needs people like the well-traveled cocktail maven Franky Marshall. And not simply because she slings a mean drink. Marshall is more than her cocktails, bar chops, and unforgettable style — she’s a voracious learner who spends much of the year traversing the globe in search of new spirits and ingredients. This may be what attracts people to her cocktails and how she’s earned a spot behind the bar at a few of New York City’s finest like Clover Club, the Dead Rabbit and Monkey Bar.

Marshall spent her formative high school years in France, where her eyes were opened to the world of fresh produce and wine. This exposure led her to cocktails when she began tending bar in college. Working her way up the ranks from cocktail server to globetrotting, bartending badass didn’t happen overnight, however. It took time, hard work and the dogged pursuit of spirits knowledge. Her travels continue to feed her need to explore and expand upon ideas and techniques behind the bar. Whether it’s doing a 10-day stage at London’s 69 Colebrooke Row, traveling to Cognac (three times) to learn about the region’s best-selling spirit or trips back to her beloved Paris to revisit her unwitting launchpad into the industry, Marshall thrives on the chaotic nature of wanderlust.

We caught up with Ms. Franky for a quick Q&A on her latest adventure, developing and running the beverage program at Brooklyn’s underground cocktail lair Le Boudoir. Entering through a bookcase, the speakeasy-esque bar she now presides over lies beneath its sister restaurant Chez Moi and is fashioned around Marie Antoinette and her private antechambers at Versailles. Marshall says she felt compelled to pay homage to Marie and the monarch’s complicated history by developing a cocktail program steeped in history and whimsy.

The interior of a bar with French decor. Le Boudoir is Ms. Franky Marshall's Brooklyn speakeasy, fashioned around Marie Antoinette and her private antechambers at Versailles. Photo courtesy of Le Boudoir.

How did you avoid the kitsch of a theme bar?

I think not going overboard in any direction helped me to not journey into that territory. The inspiration is obvious, so I didn't need to overstate it on the menu and with the drinks. I'm using some French ingredients, but not exclusively.

We have some sexy vessels which help to make guests feel like they're drinking in a different era. They suit the surroundings so well. And, while some garnishes do play a role in the flavors and flourish of the drinks, it’s the vessels that really speak to Marie’s haute couture sensibilities. Sometimes they are elegant, sometimes whimsical, sometimes daring.

What compelled you to split the menu between Marie’s inner circle and the outsiders?

The idea for the “Inner Circle” was inspired by the people “Madame Déficit” would have kept close to her and invited into her private boudoir where she personally entertained. These cocktails are generally lighter with a citrus component. Easy to swallow — as easy as the conversation and these lighthearted events would have been in the chambers, I imagine.

“The Outsiders” represent those who may or may not have been invited into the private chambers. Although, for most of her reign, Marie herself was considered an outsider. These cocktails are more spirit-forward with a stronger character. They tend to require some contemplation and time to drink.

What are the most popular drinks on the menu?

Surprisingly, the absinthe-based Dauphin has been very popular. I'm happy with the way that drink turned out; especially since absinthe is not a spirit I drink nor flavor I gravitate toward. It's great to see so many people enjoying absinthe — even though they're not always familiar with what it is or what it tastes like.

People are also really enjoy The Guillotine with mezcal, scotch, creme de banane and honey. People order those round-after-round. Someone called it "the most pleasant of kicks in the face." I'll take that!

The À Trois is a simple one with Barolo Chinato, Calvados, a little tonic and bitters. It's easy to make with only those ingredients but it's rich and delicious, and a cocktail I would drink.

How did you manage to curate a program that suits every drinker?

I wanted to assemble a small but well-curated back bar with a nice selection of wine and beer. Having something for everyone from cocktail drinkers to whiskey heads to Cognac nerds to winos to low-ABV lovers to non-drinkers was very important to me. It would have been a serious faux pas if I only offered Marie Antoinette cocktails!

A cocktail garnished with sprinkles in front of a miniature mirror. Being credited with the infamous phrase "Let them eat cake” is one of many reasons Marshall believes Marie Antoinette is misunderstood. In her honor, she made the vodka-based Eat Cake cocktail with Acqua di Cedro, Crème de Cacao, vanilla, cream, fresh lemon and sprinkles. Photos courtesy of Le Boudoir.

How does the Marie Antoinette’s personal history influence the menu?

She was certainly a much-maligned person. Not only was she a teenage queen, but being Austrian, she was an outsider herself. I appreciate that she didn't always fall in line but rejected some of the more ceremonial aspects of her role as queen. She preferred a different, sometimes simpler approach — even in some of her wardrobe. Unfortunately, this approach may have helped to fuel her negative public image. I'm sure she was no saint, but it seems there were a lot of misconceptions about her as well. I can relate to that.

The famous "Let them eat cake” line is now widely believed to have not been said by Marie or taken out of context. That’s one of the reasons I named the vodka-based Eat Cake what it is. This drink seems to straddle the line between the two personas of Marie Antoinette. The perceived and the reality.

There are some drinks based on historical facts or perceptions like The Guillotine which obviously refers to her demise. The new Sorciére with Mastiha liqueur and tequila speaks to her public image as a witch. She was feared and disliked by so many. I garnish this drink with twigs from a witch’s broom.

Tell us about the grotto.

The grotto might be one of the coolest design aspects of Le Boudoir. The “grotto” is a separate room in the bar lined with a leather banquette. The walls are bricked off as it was part of the Atlantic Avenue tunnel. It is officially the world’s oldest subway tunnel built in 1844 before Brooklyn was part of New York City.

We love to surprise people with that little room. They don’t know it’s there but once they do, they always want to sit back there. I think Marie would have loved it, too, simply because it’s private and intimate.

Interior shot of Le Boudoir, featuring velvet gilded sofa

Where do you think drinks can go from here?

How much further can we go? We've put just about everything in and around the glass at this point. I think we still have to keep our eyes on the chefs and keep working with the kitchen to find new ways to use and manipulate familiar ingredients to further understand how flavors work. I do miss not working with a full kitchen and having access to all the toys. Spirit-wise, let me taste everything from everywhere!

What are your goals for 2017?

I hope to do more travel as well as visit more bars, meet more bartenders, and go to various international shows. I'd also love to have the opportunity to meet and visit with not just people in our industry or people producing our spirits, but with those who produce all of the liquids we use behind the bar and the people producing our food and our supplies.

It's important and helpful to know where the food and products we use come from and how they're made so we can have a greater respect for them and not take these things for granted — which is easy to do when you live in a city like New York.

I'd like to have exchanges with and learn from people in other sectors — be it the arts, tech, finance or academia. I feel it's very important to consider what successful people in other fields are doing and how they're doing it.

A cocktail at Le Boudoir. A cocktail at Le Boudoir.

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