Friday, July 23, 2010

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Four, Premiere

It's November 1964 at the start of season four of "Mad Men," and a lot has changed in the world of the series' characters. But not the drinking. They're still drinking. And drinking the same stuff.

Ad exec and glamorous sphinx Don Draper has had some hard knocks during the first full year of the Johnson administration. He's his beautiful but infantalized wife, his two children, and the seemingly picture-perfect family life that went with them, and he's been reduced to living in a slightly shabby Greenwich Village apartment, relying on blind dates set up by pal Roger Sterling—and the occasionally S&M hooker—for companionship.

Furthermore, the newly minted Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce must make do with one cramped floor of the Time Life Building. But he still has his Canadian Club. There are bottles in his office and in his home. I may be imagining things, but the label looked different, the distinctive Canadian Club cursive bigger and bolder. He seems to have kept the same orb-like glasses from the old office as well.

Roger, for his part, still goes for the clear liquids, vodka I assume, though you don't get a good look at the bottle in the one scene when Roger's pouring. In the art department, Peggy Olson and new character Joey (a replacement for the departed Sal, though he seems to only work a few days a week) sip on some Jameson. Peggy's has been veering toward brown liquors for some time, just like her mentor, Don. But the smoother Irish whiskey seems a better fit for her than rye. Betty's poison is still red wine. She has some at Thanksgiving dinner at the house of her new mother-in-law, Henry Francis' mom.

The episode is framed by two interviews. In the first, Don is being quizzed by a man from Ad Age, in the second by the Wall Street Journal. You know the second one is going to go better because the reporter has a big Martini with two olives in front of him.

Another new character is Bethany, a friend of Roger's young wife Jane who goes out on what we're supposed to believe is Don's first date as a divorced man. She drinks Champagne at a place called Jimmy's La Grange. This forgotten Manhattan restaurant is the tastiest bit of New York lore thrown up by the first episode. I know my New York culinary history pretty well, but I had never heard of Jimmy's La Grange, an idiosyncratic place on E. 49th with one dinner menu, usually Chicken Kiev. ("They have Chicken Kiev," says waggish Roger. "Butter squirts everywhere.")

The New York Times turned detective to find out more: "Giulio Prigioni was born Jan. 31, 1910, in Rivanazzano, Italy. A musician, he left home at 18 and, after traveling with orchestras on cruise ships, married Amelia Rossi, settled in New York and eventually opened his restaurant under his Americanized name. “‘La Grange’ is a sort of a very loose interpretation of ‘a gathering of people,’” said Jimmy’s only son, Jules Prigioni, 75. “George Burns was there a number of times. Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe.” Jimmy visited every table, drawing the night’s special on a napkin or on the table. “Early on, he did have menus,” his son said. “Later, he figured menus are a pain in the neck. He’d tell you what you were going to eat that night. And they let him.” Over time, what you were going to eat was invariably chicken Kiev. Jimmy spun a full tale about the dish, and how Napoleon’s chef invented it during the march on Moscow. Jimmy sold the place when he was in his 70s and moved to Nebraska. He died in 2003 at age 93."

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