Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Mad Men" and Drinking, Part III

Episodes 7, 8 and 9 of "Mad Men" are not as thrilling as the previous six, in regards to the drinking on display, and its historical interest. But, as usual, there are bottles and glasses and bars worth commenting on.

There is more and more vodka turning up on the series. I find myself wondering if this is accurate. Certainly, vodka burst onto the American scene after World War II, but was it so widely enjoyed by 1960, the year "Mad Men" takes place? In episode 7, the character Roger Sterling babies his ulcer with a glass of milk laced with Smirnoff. And later in the episode, he and main character Don Draper finish off two bottles of generic vodka. That's a lot of flavorless booze.

Well, could be. I just came across this ad for Smirnoff from 1961. It talks of how "American by the millions prefer" vodka. Also, ad men would be on the cutting edge of things; they would have been among the first to jump on the vodka bandwagon. And here's another ad from 1960, pushing Smirnoff as a choice for Martinis. "Wherever men and Martinis are extra dry." OK, so "Mad Men" has it right.

Nonetheless, Martinis are enjoyed with gin during a long lunch later in the episode. (I'm assuming it's gin; there are olives and no mention of vodka is made.) "Easy on the vermouth, says Sterling, typical of Martini drinkers of that era who liked their drink as dry as possible. Draper also makes a funny comment at the table: "Drinking milk. I never liked it. I hate cows."

Many restaurant references in this batch of shows, including Four Seasons, then in its first flower of fame, Chumley's and P.J. Clarke's. A long scene in Episode 8 takes place at Clarke's, and it pissed me off that the show, which is filmed in L.A., didn't go to the bother of setting the shot in the real Clarke's. The bar is still there adn looks very much like it did in the 1960s, and the filming could have been set up easily. The set they constructed instead looks nothing like Clarke's. (That's an erroneous image from the scene above.) The characters drink beer while they're there.

Also mentioned is Rattazzi's, a haunt at 9 E. 48th Street which is almost forgotten today. It was named after owner Dick Rattazzi, opened in 1956, and was popular with ad men of the day.

There's also a scene in episode 8 where the closeted gay art director played by Bryan Batt drink Sambuca con le Mosca ("Sambuca with flies"). It's a traditional Italian drink with three espresso beans floating in the drink. The scene takes place in the Hotel Roosevelt near Grand Central, apparently a virtual den of iniquity back in those days.

NOTE: as a history geek, I must point out an major anachronism in these episodes. Sterling Cooper, the ad firm, is working with the Nixon campaign. In episode 7, at a meeting, it is mentioned that Kennedy has not yet been selected as the Democratic nominee. In the next episode, which takes place soon after, the characters dance to Chubby Checker's hit "The Twist." The Democratic convention was July 11-15, 1960, placing the episodes sometime before then. Checker's "The Twist" was released on Aug. 1, 1960.


Anonymous said...

Wow the Chubby Checker vs. Nixon thing just got realllly nerdy.

I've enjoyed your analysis of the show- I too was paying attention to the type of drinking, not just the quantity. The "Smirnoff Leaves you Breathless" campaign was around by 1964 (not sure when it was created)and the Moscow Mule was created in the early 1940's, so vodka makes sense.

Robert Simonson, "Our Man in the Liquor-Soaked Trenches"-New York Times. said...

Yes, very nerdy. But the people who run the show are nerdy sticklers for period accuracy, so they better expect the nerds to come out of the woodwork.

Anonymous said...

Smirnoff started the Breathless campaign in the mid-50s, when gin was certainly dominant. But the Breathless campaign was brilliant in the days of 3 Martini lunches. It wasn't until 1967 that vodka (saddly) surpassed gin as the #1 clear spirit. In 1976, it became the #1 spirit in the U.S. (sadder).

As far a detail goes. The finale of Season Two finds Betty drinking alone in a bar. On the shelves in back, there are a few bottles of bourbon, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden's, from memory. The oldest of which was released in 1987.