“It’s a modern-day classic whether you love or loathe it,” says New York bartender Conor Myers of the salacious Pornstar Martini, one of London’s key contributions to the early cocktail renaissance, alongside the Bramble and the Espresso Martini.
Though its name evokes other innuendo-spiked drinks, like the Sex on the Beach and the Slow Comfortable Screw, the Pornstar Martini belongs to an era when mixed drinks were tipping back toward refinement. Created in London in 2003 by Douglas Ankrah, the drink consists of vanilla vodka, passion fruit liqueur and passion fruit purée—shaken and served up with a sidecar shot of Champagne. Much like its peers, the Earl Grey MarTEAni and the Breakfast Martini, the cocktail is a Martini in name only and nods “to the era when everyone was using oversize seven-ounce cocktail glasses,” says Ankrah. “It was an instant hit.”
Ankrah was developing the opening menu at the Townhouse, the influential drinking den he founded during the early years of the cocktail revival, when the idea for the recipe hit. “It was a complete accident,” he says. “Sometimes writing a song can take two minutes or a year. I created this in 15 minutes or less. Like how Mick and Keith wrote ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ in 10 minutes.”
Ankrah considers vanilla and passion fruit “a match made in heaven,” citing the popularity of the flavor pairing in cakes and pastries. “I approached this like it was a baking recipe,” he says of his inspiration. While he remains agnostic as to the brand of vanilla vodka to use as the base spirit, he first made it with the Swedish wheat vodka Cariel Vanilla, which boasts a particularly strong vanilla finish, though he notes Absolut Vanilia and Grey Goose La Vanille also work well. He then complements the base with passion fruit in two forms: half an ounce of Passoã passion fruit liqueur for added brightness and two ounces of Funkin passion fruit purée, which supplies the opulent texture for which the drink is known. For the sweetener, Ankrah prefers a simple house-made vanilla sugar made by blitzing two vanilla pods in five cups of caster sugar in a food processor.
Once built, the drink is then garnished with a sliced open passion fruit, and accompanied by a shot of Champagne. The two-vessel assemblage has since become the signature presentation for the drink and a symbol of its perceived grandeur. “People think they’re getting two drinks in one,” says Ankrah.
Though Ankrah himself hasn’t been behind the bar in over 10 years, countless variations of the cocktail abound in the U.K.; many add lime juice, an amendment he finds to be unnecessary as the passion fruit is tart enough on its own; other bars, like Manchester’s Manahatta, serve it on tap, while outposts of the Slug and Lettuce chain of bars present it large-format style in what’s known as a Pornstar Martini Tree, a tableside tower blossoming with the namesake cocktail and accompanying shots of Prosecco. In 2017, Ankrah created yet another format for the drink, launching a pre-bottled version, called P*Star, meant to capture the original spirit of his recipe.
While it may never reach the level of renown it holds in the U.K., variations can be found at a number of bars in the U.S., too. At P.C.H. in San Francisco, the drink is among the top 10 best-sellers; at Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour in Phoenix, owner Ross Simon, who worked at Townhouse’s sister bar LAB in the early 2000s, maintains the original spec created by Ankrah. “It’s probably one of the most popular contemporary classic cocktails that we have,” says Simon.
At Underdog in New York, meanwhile, Conor Myers is bringing the Pornstar Martini back for his summer menu, in a version tweaked with lime juice and Peychaud’s bitters and topped off with Champagne. He also offers a frozen version made with vodka, Frangelico, passion fruit puree, vanilla syrup and lime. “I think Douglas created a fantastic drink,” says Myers. “It does exactly what it set out to do: be delicious and provocative.”
Douglas Ankrah's Pornstar Martini