It’s been just over a month since we tragically lost Douglas Ankrah; a man described as a ‘pioneer’ who was generous with time and friendship. Incredibly, it’s been nearly twenty years since he opened the beloved and much-missed LAB Bar (London Academy of Bartenders) in Soho, but its legendary legacy – and his – lives on.
A cornerstone of the capital’s thriving cocktail scene throughout the noughties, LAB not only launched the careers of an array of illustrious industry figures (including Dre Masso, Alex Turner, Tim Stones, Andrea Montague and the late Gregor de Gruther) but also popularised the legendary Pornstar Martini, a modern classic cocktail first invented by Ankrah back in 2005. We interviewed him a couple of years back, and thought it would be fitting to look back and remember the man responsible for an icon or two…
Do you remember when you first had the idea for the Pornstar Martini?
A lot of people mistakenly think that I invented the drink at LAB but it was actually an idea I had when I was putting together the menu at Townhouse in Knightsbridge, which I opened in 2002. Back then, people were gradually moving away from things like the Cosmopolitan and were looking for something a little different. I knew it was a great drink but I didn’t know quite how big it was going to be. I’m a massive music fan so I compare it to writing a great song, you have a strong feeling that you’ve created something special but you don’t really know if it’s going to be a hit – but then people immediately embraced it. What was the drinking occasion and the ‘drinker’ you had in mind? I don’t think you can be too prescriptive about the drinker or the occasion because, regardless of your intentions, the customer will ultimately decide for themselves when they want to drink it. When I was designing it, I wanted to create a cocktail that could be consumed a few times over an evening. It’s a liquid dessert and a great after dinner drink, but people order it throughout the evening. It’s got a sweetness that people have really embraced – some drinks serve a particular purpose or period of the evening, but the Pornstar Martini hasn’t been pigeonholed in that way.
We’re sure you’ve been asked this hundreds of times but what inspired the Pornstar name?
Ha ha. I have been asked this a lot and every time I have to make it clear that the name has NEVER been anything to do with porn! When I was writing my book “Shaken & Stirred” in South Africa, the solitude often got a bit much so I would occasionally frequent a rather louche gentleman’s club called Mavericks in Cape Town. When I got back to London, I wanted to add a cocktail to the menu that was a bit naughty, and initially called it the Maverick Martini (which is the cocktail’s more suitable pseudonym if you are wanting to order it in the presence of parents or elderly relatives!). I then described it as the kind of cocktail that would be ordered by a pornstar and the name stuck. It’s really more innocent than people think.
Can you set the record straight and specify what the measurements, ingredients and method are for the original Pornstar Martini?
With pleasure. Here’s how to make it properly. The ingredients are 40ml of vanilla vodka (either ‘Cariel’ or ‘Grey Goose La Vanille’); 15-20ml Passionfruit liqueur (Passoa); and 2 x flat bar spoons of homemade vanilla sugar (I have my own secret formula to making this that I can’t possibly share!). *Editor – “You can use Teissiere Gomme instead!” Shake all the ingredients for between 15-20 seconds; fine strain into a chilled 7oz martini glass; garnish with half a passion fruit and provide a teaspoon for eating the passionfruit. Then serve a 60ml glass of chilled Champagne next to it. The way to drink it is to eat a bit of the passionfruit by scooping out the flesh using the teaspoon, then sip the martini and then sip the Champagne – and then go back and forth between the three experiences
Do you have a preference when it comes to the Champagne?
Good question! Any Champagne will do. A lot of bars serve it with Prosecco now but back in 2005, Prosecco was seldom seen outside Italian restaurants. In fact, the Pornstar Martini has been a major factor in driving sales of Prosecco as it’s a cheaper alternative – it’s my gift to the world!
What is the most common mistake bartenders make when mixing it?
Taking shortcuts. I’ve seen bars using apple juice, lime juice and orange juice instead of passion fruit liqueur but that makes it a totally different drink. It’s often at the behest of the bar owner rather than the bartender so I don’t blame the guys behind the bar, they are just trying to make it cheaper. But if you’re not going to do it properly, don’t do it at all. Like all classics, it’s a beautiful drink when done properly – but an awful one when done badly. Don’t take shortcuts.
So, what is the drink you’re most proud of creating?
I think that would be the “Ruby Tuesday” and the “Black Star Liner”. Check them out.
What do you believe constitutes a ‘modern classic’?
It has to be simple, easy to replicate and it has to have a memorable name. Theatre is important too – it needs to stand out. Make a drink that people will try to make at home… but can’t easily.
When you first created the Pornstar Martini, did you think it had the potential to become a modern classic?
No. I liked it, but never dreamed it would become what it has. I’ve created thousands of drinks and I wouldn’t say this is one of my favourites – it’s like when Nile Rogers from Chic talks about “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, he’s always surprised that it was such a big hit. If you look at the Rolling Stones and The Beatles, their most successful songs are seldom the best ones.
Why do you think the Pornstar Martini captured the imagination and became a classic?
The ritual, the theatre of the serve and the simplicity of the flavours. People just embraced it during what was a very magical time for the London cocktail scene. Every bartender looks back at his 20’s and thinks those were the best days of their lives but when we were running LAB and Townhouse, they truly were beautiful times to be in bars – and I really enjoyed myself! Now, the Pornstar Martini has become my nemesis! People call me the Pornstar guy when I walk into bars and that’s not always a good thing!
Why do you think there have been so few ‘classics’ created in the last decade or so?
It’s really difficult to create a classic in this age of the internet. But I also think that the role of bartenders has changed – so many are working as consultants, for big hotel groups and in close association with the
big spirits companies. This is fine but there’s not the freedom of creativity that you get with actually owning and running your own bar. If you own the bar you can happily break the rules. There’s no-one telling you what you can or can’t do – I did what I wanted to do, that’s for sure
When you see a Pornstar Martini on the menu in bars that you visit, do you always order it?
Not really. Now and again. Some bartenders get nervous when serving me my own drink and others try and introduce a twist. It’s interesting but it’s a bit like redesigning a two-piece suit; it’s been done already!