Why One of the World’s Best Bars Is Making Cocktails with a Slushie Machine
Gabor Fodor, head bartender at three-time “World’s Best Bar”-winner Artesian in London’s Marylebone, has a soft spot for frozen piña coladas.
Following a warren of gilded corridors through The Langham, one of London's fanciest hotels, I eventually find Artesian. It's a watering hole that's been crowned "World's Best Bar" three times, is littered with plush armchairs and fresh flowers, and has an actual pagoda built into the wall behind the marble bar.
But in among the polished glassware, cocktail shakers, and bottles of high-end spirits is something you wouldn't expect to see in a chic hotel bar: two slushie machines. Yes, I'm talking about the kind that churn neon-coloured sugary drinks at dingy bowling alleys.
"It's true that it's a bit out of place for a bar like this to have a slushie machine. But it's actually the best way to serve some drinks."
I'm talking to Gabor Fodor, head bartender at Artesian, about the decision to install a Slush Puppie-maker before he drops a second bombshell.
"The drinks we're making in the machines are actually our bestsellers: a piña colada and a porn star martini."
Judging by the number of suits and glossy blowouts in the bar area, I find it hard to believe that a pineapple and coconut Tiki drink and a crassly named martini with Prosecco chaser are hugely popular among Artesian's clientele. And I'm sort of right.
"The drinks we serve are a twist on a piña colada and a porn star martini," admits Fodor. "Our new menu is all around the theme of perception. So, for example, we have a drink called Mind Your Step which is served from a 'broken' glass with sugar shards that look like glass and one called Affected Experience, which contains a flavour-changing berry."
Is the idea to make people realise that the only acceptable time for ordering a porn star martini is at 2 AM on a Saturday night, dancing to club classics at Be At One?
Fodor laughs. "We're trying to update the cocktails by using ingredients that give them a bigger flavour profile," he says. "We're not saying that they're a twist on a piña colada or a porn star martini. The menu just lists the ingredients but even the people who say they only drink Old Fashioneds will take a look at the flavours and order it. Then they realise it's a twist on the drinks."
He adds: "You can call them trashy cocktails but at the end of the day, all of us are going to order one! I actually love piña coladas but it's very difficult to find a good one. It's not an easy drink to make. Usually I find they're quite weak so you lose the taste of the rum and only get the coconut and pineapple flavour."
As Fodor rummages behind the bar, he tells me how Artesian serve their version, called a Papo Lucca.
"Cream usually makes it heavy, so we were looking for something with no cream because we wanted it to be a lighter drink but still have the flavour of the ingredients," he explains. "So, we use an aged rum, Barcadi Ocho, which has the body without the cream. Instead of pineapple, we're using papaya because we thought it went better with the rum."
And just to make sure you really can taste the rum, there's more.
"We also have a Wray and Nephew rum which gives another layer of rum taste," continues Fodor. "We infuse it with a touch of pink peppercorns because they're a very good match to the coconut purée in the drink. Then the slight spiciness is enhanced with a nutmeg essence."
It sure sounds worlds away from the kind of sickly sweet cocktail that almost always comes with a paper umbrella and maraschino cherry. Which is why I'm surprised to hear that Artesian's take on the porn star martini (renamed the Ten Dollar Tease) still comes with a kitsch cherry garnish.
But, of course, I should know by now that nothing at Artesian is as it first appears.
"We use sour cherry as a garnish but when the drink is served, it comes as sour cherry sherbet on the straw which looks like lipstick as if someone—perhaps the porn star—just drank from your drink," explains Fodor.
He continues: "For the drink, we had to go with vodka because that's the base of the porn star martini. We use kalamansi [a citrus fruit from the Philippines] to give citrusy notes, but also some bitterness and extra dry triple sec to give dryness to the drink. Passion fruit keeps people familiar with the drink's origins. But we use tonka beans rather than vanilla. Tonka beans are used in South America as a vanilla substitute and have chocolate and cocoa flavours as well as vanilla so it gives the drink that bigger flavour profile."
"Shall we try it?"
Fodor grabs a glass and starts working the slushie machine. He smiles to himself as he pours the drink—it's clear the novelty of pulling a lever to serve cocktails hasn't worn off. I have to ask what's so great about using a machine that was responsible for a large majority of my childhood sugar highs.
"Drinks coming from a slushie machine are much more refreshing and they're also easier to serve. These drinks are in big demand so they have to be relatively quick to make and consistency is very important," he says. "If you make the drinks in a blender, the texture will, as much as you try and control it, not be as consistent as the slushie machine."
Fodor continues: "I've seen bars all around London trying to make classic, Old Fashioned-style drinks in a slushie machine but I think it has to be a fruity drink. If you make an Old Fashioned as a slushie, what are you going to achieve? It's a frozen drink with a whisky base. It doesn't really work because it dilutes the drink too much."
Sipping on my fruity, refreshing Ten Dollar Tease and trying not to get brain freeze in the process, I ask Fodor why he thinks drinks like the piña colada and porn star martini—or anything poured from a slushie machine—came to be considered trashy in the first place.
"I think it comes from the industry and has a big influence on what people drink. If you ask for a mojito at a bar and they say they don't make them there, you feel embarrassed and try something else," he says. "Then you go to the next place and you're not going to ask for a mojito, you're going to ask for something that they made you at the last place."
He continues: "In our bar, we accommodate every kind of request. The craziest thing you ask for, we'll make it. I think a bar has to be like that. If there's one thing that I've learned in my career, it's that you cannot judge. For me, that's not hospitality. If someone asks for the most expensive Cognac with Diet Coke, I'm happy to serve it. Because that's what you like and I'm here to make you happy."
A Ten Dollar Tease down, happy I certainly am