The Playboy Club, a new series debuting on NBC tonight, and Pan Am, which begins airing on ABC this Sunday, both seek to tap into the 1960s nostalgia ignited by the success of Mad Men. Set in Chicago, The Playboy Club is already drawing the ire of feminists on the left and moralists on the right. Since we haven’t seen the show yet, we’ll withhold judgment. We just hope they get the Whiskey Sours right.
In Season 4, Episode 10 of Mad Men (“Hands and Knees”), the New York Playboy Club features prominently. When Lane Pryce’s cruel, domineering father, Raymond, comes to town, Lane practically begs Don Draper to join them for dinner. It’s clear Lane isn’t itching for alone time with Dad. They go to the Playboy Club, where Lane’s African American girlfriend, Toni Charles, works as a Bunny. Judy, one of the Bunnies, comes to take their order and Lane asks for three Whiskey Sours, but the disagreeable Raymond wants iced bourbon instead. So, make it two Whiskey Sours.
In the 1960s, the Playboy brand embodied a cool, modern sophistication. In addition to his “lifestyle” magazine and syndicated television shows—Playboy’s Penthouse (1959-60) and Playboy After Dark (1969-70), which were set as parties featuring Playboy Playmates and celebrities at Hugh Hefner’s penthouse—Hefner owned the famous Playboy Clubs. The very first Playboy Club, the one featured in the new television show, opened in Chicago in 1960, and others soon followed in the United States and elsewhere. The New York club opened in December 1963 on East 59th Street in Manhattan. Membership for men like Lane Pryce was a status symbol. Members were called “keyholders,” supposedly because being a member was the key that opened the door to the pleasures of the Playboy lifestyle.
Former Playboy Bunny Joy Percival (known at the Detroit Playboy Club where she worked in the 1960s as “Bunny Jill”) kindly gave us permission to use a photo (see above) taken of her and actor Hugh O’Brien back in the day in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook.
We don’t know if Hugh O’Brien was a Whiskey Sour man; we suspect he might have opted for something more masculine like an Old Fashioned. We’re not being sexist here; when you read The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook you’ll discover that cocktails in the 1960s were gendered: women preferred the Mai Tais and Brandy Alexanders while the men gravitated towards whiskey straight up or rye based cocktails such as the Old Fashioned.
If you want to know how a Whiskey Sour was made at a Playboy Club, you can find the recipe, borrowed from Playboy’s Host & Bar Book by Thomas Mario (Playboy, 1971), in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. In his book, Mario gave this advice: “every prearranged drinking session calls for two kinds of alchemy: The first is mixing potables; the second is mixing people.” We doubt Raymond Pryce mixed well with anyone; he’s about as sour as they come.