The Pornstar Martini looms large. In the 20 years since it was first created at London’s Townhouse by the late bartender Douglas Ankrah, the drink has become not just a modern classic, but the most searched-for cocktail in the world, with nearly twice as much interest as the Piña Colada. But, until recently, you’d be hard-pressed to find one on a cocktail menu stateside.
Made with vanilla vodka, passion fruit liqueur and passion fruit purée, and served with an accompanying sidecar of chilled Champagne, the Pornstar Martini is a Martini in name only. The drink belongs to a class of cocktails better known as ’tinis (think Appletini), which were eagerly dismissed by early aughts bartenders looking to revive the drinks of the 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the first craft cocktail bars to reconsider the merits of the Pornstar Martini by putting it on the menu was Suffolk Arms, the short-lived yet influential New York City bar helmed by Giuseppe González that closed in 2018. Today, amid a modern ’tini revival—in which everything from the drink’s iconic V-shaped glass to its more obscure offshoots, like the French Martini, are back—the Pornstar Martini is popping up on dozens of cocktail menus nationwide.
It’s against this backdrop that I was joined by Punch associate editor Mary Anne Porto and bartenders Sarah Morrissey (of the forthcoming reopening of Le Veau d’Or), Izzy Tulloch (Milady’s), Natasha Bermudez (Llama San and Llama Inn) and Shannan Lynch (Brooklyn’s Grand Army), who mixed the drinks for us, to find the best Pornstar Martini from recipes submitted by bartenders across the country. The judges were looking for a drink that hit all the expected flavors in a well-integrated manner with a rich, velvety texture. It was no easy task. “It’s a hard drink to get right,” said Morrissey. “Passion fruit is so sour and vanilla is so strong, it can be tough to balance.”
Those drinks that did not hit the mark were dismissed for lacking the body and the distinctive tart, tropical notes of fresh passion fruit, often relying solely on a liqueur, or for being too sweet or too thin. Standouts, however, all leaned on unsweetened passion fruit purée to bring the rich texture that, paired with vanilla—in the form of vanilla bean infusions rather than flavored vodka—demands a palate cleanser. That’s where the sidecar of Champagne dictated by the original recipe comes in. On that front, the judges were looking for the genuine article; dry Champagne or blanc de blancs were deemed “perfect” choices by Morrissey, who craved the “bready, brioche-y” quality of such wines to temper the inherent opulence of the drink itself. “It should be a voluptuous bubbly on the side,” Tulloch agreed.
Outside of the original recipe, which stands up to modern scrutiny (though the judges thought the half-ounce of passion fruit liqueur, particularly the brands called for by Ankrah himself—Passoã or De Kuyper—might be better left omitted), there were only two recipes that won over the panel.
The winning recipe came courtesy of Brian Evans of New York’s Sunday Hospitality, which includes Sunday in Brooklyn, The Lobby Bar at the Chelsea Hotel and Rule of Thirds. His recipe combines Suntory Haku vodka with Boiron brand passion fruit purée, Cointreau, lime juice, vanilla bean syrup and, uniquely, the pulpy flesh of half of a fresh passion fruit. It’s served with a sidecar of G.H. Mumm Brut Cordon Rouge Champagne. The tasters found the vanilla subtle, the passion fruit just right and the whole drink well-integrated. Morrissey noted, “I feel like I could drink this whole thing happily,” while Bermudez observed of the group: “We keep going back for more, which tells you everything you need to know.”
Second place went to Kevin Beary of Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash. Though far from archetypal, the Only Fans Martini, with its vanilla-infused cachaça base, won over the judges. The vanilla outshone the passion fruit here, but it only added to the indulgent, opulent quality of the drink, leaving you wanting a sip of the Champagne sidecar. It was hands-down the most lavish of the group, “a guilty-pleasure drink” according to Tulloch; despite the departure in base spirit, the trait felt in keeping with the essence of the original. After all, as Morissey noted, “If you’re drinking a drink called a Pornstar Martini, it should be sexy.”