As I begin my tour of the Star City’s best-loved cocktails, it seems inevitable that I would start exactly where I am right now: perched on a barstool at Frankie Rowland’s downtown, slow-sipping that famous Pineapple Martini. A little froth of sweet ice crystals kisses the rim of the glass and then my lower lip, reminding me that no matter how the world outside obsesses over pumpkin-spice lattes, in here, with this drink in hand, it’s endless summer.
But I digress.
Frankie’s Pineapple Martini might well be Roanoke’s best-loved cocktail, and it’s been around long enough to call it a classic. You might think of it as the Gwyneth Paltrow of mixed drinks: tall and cool and blonde and sweet, and possessed of an easy elegance that avoids the usual trap of cocktail-trendiness.
To put it another way: this drink isn’t trying to be hip. It’s not even particularly mysterious. From where I sit at the bar, I can see a giant glass jar of fat pineapple chunks slowly infusing in clear liquid, announcing to everyone exactly how this vodka came to taste so much like Hawaii.
It’s hard to get at what’s made the Pineapple Martini such a smashing success — widely imitated at other downtown bars — although I have some ideas. For starters, there’s the venue itself: Frankie Rowland’s is a well-bred white-tablecloth steakhouse, a place you can safely take just about any important client. It’s the kind of warm, low-lit, leather-and-wood-lined establishment where a fruity martini isn’t going to come off as tawdry or cheap. All that to say, a lady like me can sit at the bar, drink it alone and not look as if I’m vying for attention. A man can drink it and not look silly.
More importantly, though, this drink occupies what is typically a difficult niche. If, like me, you’ve got a yen for tropical flavors, it’s hard to find a cocktail that isn’t dyed flamingo-pink or curaçao-blue, loaded down with artificially flavored coconut syrup, or served in a fishbowl the size of your face.
Here, though, you’ve got a drink that’s really and truly just vodka and pineapple, allowed to mingle for at least two weeks, then strained of all the bitter pieces, blended, shaken and served. It tastes like pure sunshine … Alcoholic sunshine, which is alright by me.
Come join me for one anytime … but especially on a frigid day in February.
See you next week for Star City Cocktail #2!
Frankie Rowland’s is located at 104 South Jefferson Street downtown, and reservations are strongly recommended for dinner seating. You can call the restaurant at (540) 527-2333, or check out the menu on the website here.
Bringing a friend who’s looking for a non-alcoholic treat? My bartender recommended a simple juice martini: OJ, cranberry and ginger. Or better yet, indulge in something a little more solid: a beautiful creamy-and-crunchy, perfectly carmelized creme brûlée: