Two decades after arriving fashionably late to the ’tini craze, the Pornstar Martini might just be bigger than ever. Today, the London-born drink shows no signs of slowing as bartenders seize the opportunity to escort the familiar template into uncharted territory.
Created by the late legendary Ghanaian bartender Douglas Ankrah, the Pornstar Martini was destined to be a star. A silky combination of vanilla vodka, passion fruit liqueur and passion fruit purée, accompanied by a Champagne sidecar—which you can either use to top the drink or enjoy as a palate cleanser between sips of the cocktail—the two-vessel presentation is opulence at its best. Then, of course, there’s its ribald name, which Ankrah picked because he thought the cocktail looked like something an adult-film star would order.
Guided by the belief that bars and drinks should be, above all, fun and sexy, Ankrah succeeded in building a drink that few could resist. When he unveiled the Pornstar Martini at London’s now-shuttered Townhouse in 2002, it was an instant hit. Overnight, the bawdy Martini proliferated across the United Kingdom, where it remains among the most popular cocktails in the nation—and by some metrics, the world. Amid today’s pervasive Martini mania, it was only a matter of time before bartenders in the U.S. and beyond began revisiting the drink—and they’re going wild.
“It’s got a lot of things going for it: the provocative name, the beautiful appearance, the side of Champagne, how approachable it is,” says Micah Wilder, beverage director at L’Ardente in Washington, D.C. “In the cocktail world, passion fruit is the fan favorite. You put passion fruit on the menu, and it will always sell better than anything else.”
In the nation’s capital, L’Ardente offers its Porn Star Caviar Martini, a grandiose mezcal-based serve that comes with a caviar bump atop a pearly spoon. At Discolo, an ’80s-inspired cocktail club in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, beverage director Matthew Reysen takes a high-concept approach, uniting the bubbles and the cocktail into a single clarified drink. “I wanted to make the drink more about the bubbles and give you a cocktail that was like you were drinking a glass of Champagne, but also tasted like a Pornstar Martini,” says Reysen, who was inspired by London bartender Chris Moore’s signature Champagne Piña Colada, a more sophisticated take on the classic boat drink that includes coconut sorbet and Champagne. Within the growing crop of riffs, the clarified route has proven popular. NR, an intimate cocktail bar on New York’s Upper East Side, offers a clarified gin-based take featuring housemade cola, while Kool Restaurante, just south of the border in Tijuana, Mexico, offers a Pornstar Martini Milk Punch bolstered with Mexican-made sake, Ancho Reyes and clove leaf oil.
Elsewhere, bartenders lean into the playfulness and unpretentious spirit of the original. At Winnie’s in Houston, the vibrant craft cocktail bar gives the drink the large-format treatment, serving a frozen iteration in a miniature treasure chest. Meanwhile, Tern Club in Knoxville, Tennessee, escorts the modern classic further into tiki territory, fortifying its top-selling riff with Giffard Blue Curaçao and housemade orgeat. And at Saturn, a new bar in Austin, Texas, where disco cocktails and long-maligned “lowbrow” drinks are getting an elevated touch, putting a Pornstar riff on the menu was a no-brainer for owner Steven Smith. “Our whole identity is fun and crazy and sexy and silly,” says Smith. “I knew we had to do a Pornstar Martini.” In the Mommy & Daddy Time, the passion fruit elements get swapped out for pink guava liqueur.
As the Pornstar Martini—in all its iterations—continues to win over precious space on curated cocktail menus across the country, it’s hard to imagine its trajectory going in any other direction than up. “People often want a Martini that isn’t a Martini,” explains Jocelyn Morin, owner of Tern Club, of the drink’s innate appeal. Plus, she adds, “Everyone likes a two-for-one.”