A Mad Men Holiday Cocktail Party

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For your holiday party with a Mad Men-twist this year we’ve compiled a can’t-miss cocktail menu with several of our favorite Mad Men libations. You can find the recipes in our new book, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, along with tips for throwing a successful Mad Men–style cocktail party.

In almost any episode of Mad Men you’ll see enough alcohol to sink a ship, not to mention a struggling mid-size Madison Avenue advertising firm. So, let’s travel back to the early 1960s when Elvis was King, John F. Kennedy was President and Don Draper was Mayor of Madison Avenue.

Unless you want to spend the evening bartending, we advise you to select just a few types of cocktail. Pick and choose from the selections below based on your guests’ cocktail preferences.

Old Fashioned. It’s the very first food or drink seen in Mad Men, at the opening of the first episode. Don Draper and an Old Fashioned go together like pastrami and rye. Bourbon or rye (the liquid kind) is the central ingredient in this classic and to make it Don’s way you’ll have to muddle the cherry.

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Old Fashioned

Martini. For every Old Fashioned Don drinks, Roger Sterling has at least one Martini, maybe more. It’s hard to imagine a simpler cocktail, vermouth and gin are the only ingredients in a classic martini unless you count the olive or cocktail onion, but proportion and quality ingredients are key. This iconic cocktail of the Mad Men era is sure to be a hit.

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Martini

Mai Tai. This fruity concoction is lavishly decorated with slices of fruit, miniature paper umbrella and swizzle sticks of vaguely Polynesian appearance. “That’s quite a drink,” says Don when department store Rachel Menken orders one at El Morocco. Since this is a season when decorations are everywhere, why not in your drink?

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Mai Tai

Brandy Alexander. Another drink ”for the ladies,” as Roger might refer to it, the BrandyAlexander is practically a confection made with crème de cacao, brandy and cream. Peggy Olson likes hers very sweet: to each, her own.

 A Mad Men Holiday Cocktail Party

Brandy Alexander

Jade. Christmas conjures images of red and green so the Jade, which derives its color from green Crème de Menthe, is a perfect complement to your holiday gathering (or when your drowning your sorrows after Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in the 1960 election and there’s only Crème de Menthe left in the Sterling Cooper liquor closet).

 A Mad Men Holiday Cocktail Party

Jade

Canadian Clubhouse Punch. For the host or hostess who would rather join in the fun than serve drinks all night this popular punch featured in Canadian Club’s 1961 holiday advertising is the perfect choice for December festivities. Made with Don Draper’s preferred brand, your guests can serve themselves. But since punch should be pre-mixed, your guests won’t know what in it or in what quantities so be careful: punch can really pack a punch.

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Canadian Clubhouse Punch

Stork Club Cocktail Punch. Another cocktail that can be simplified by serving it in a punch bowl is the Stork Club Cocktail, a creation of the gone but not forgotten hub of New York café society for four decades. The Stork Club was, according to famed gossip columnist Walter Winchell, “New York’s New Yorkiest place,” frequented by the likes of Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and, of course, the glamorous Don and Betty Draper. Triple Sec, gin and Angostura bitters are the foundation of what one might call New York’s New Yorkiest cocktail.

 A Mad Men Holiday Cocktail Party

Stork Club Cocktail

Eggnog. Finally, what holiday party would be complete without this classic of the season. You can use cognac, brandy or rum as your base ingredient. The other ingredients read like a list of items for a fabulous dessert. It’s a hit at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Christmas Party in 1964, and is certain to add cheer to your holiday celebration this year.

 A Mad Men Holiday Cocktail Party

Eggnog

A Mad Men Thanksgiving: How Sweet It Is

It’s Thanksgiving Day 1964 and Don Draper and his ex-wife Betty, now Mrs. Henry Francis, are spending the day in very different ways. (Season 4, Episode 1, “Public Relations.”) Betty and the Draper children, Sally and Bobby, are at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with the Francis family. Don is in his dark Greenwich Village apartment with a call girl who doesn’t have much time: she, too, has to make Thanksgiving dinner with her family. No scene in Mad Men captures Don’s essential loneliness more tragically.

The Thanksgiving table at Henry’s mother’s home is covered with fine linens and elegant A Mad Men Thanksgiving: How Sweet It Is glassware. Everyone is formally dressed. When Henry’s dour, heavy set mother observes that Sally hasn’t eaten anything, she responds with the candor of a child and says she doesn’t like the food, much to Betty’s embarrassment.

“How about sweet potato?” offers Betty, eager to cover for Sally’s breach of etiquette.

“I’m not hungry,” pouts Sally. We sense she is still smarting from her parents’ divorce and isn’t happy to be spending the holiday with a lot of people she doesn’t know.

“Look, there’s marshmallow,” says Betty, nearly forcing Sally to take a bite, which she promptly spits out.

A Thanksgiving dish widely associate with the 1960s is “candied sweets,” a casserole made with sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter and topped with marshmallow. (You can also use yams; contrary to popular belief yam is not just another word for sweet potato, it’s another root vegetable altogether.) So sweet it could be a dessert, candied sweet potatoes have been a popular winter dish in the south for generations, and a year-round soul food staple. Though marshmallows are one of the earliest confections known to man, dating to ancient Greece and Rome, they weren’t mass-produced until the turn of the 20th century. The earliest recipes for combining them with sweet potatoes date to the 1920s.

The candied sweets on the Francis Thanksgiving table in 1964 could well have come from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (Meredith, 1962), published just two years earlier. Chances are you’re going to be having pie for Thanksgiving dessert so we recommend these as a side anyone with a sweet tooth will enjoy.

Candied Sweets

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

6 servings

 A Mad Men Thanksgiving: How Sweet It Is

Candied sweets from the Mad Men era -- a casserole made with sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter and topped with marshmallows. From The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (Meredith, 1962).

Ingredients

  • 6 medium sweet potatoes ,cooked and peeled
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • ½ cup mini-marshmallows

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 1 ½ quart casserole. Cut sweet potatoes into ½ inch slices. Place a layer in the bottom of casserole.
  2. Sprinkle with brown sugar and slat; dot with butter. Continue layering until all ingredients are used, ending with butter and sugar.
  3. Bake uncovered about 30 minutes, or until glazed. Add marshmallows and bake 5 more minutes, to melt (marshmallows should be lightly browned).
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Can You Take a Punch?

What is it about punch? Is it the fruity, easy on the palate taste? The impunity with which you can consume a self-serve alcoholic beverage with no one knowing you’re back for fourths? The festive atmosphere it imparts to a social gathering? Or is it that the punch bowl is a party’s equivalent of the office water cooler: a place to gather, chat and refill? Punch was a fixture at many a party and social gathering in the 1960s, but today you’d be hard pressed to find a household in which the punch bowl hasn’t been mothballed along with the 9-inch black and white TV.

Unlike most alcoholic drinks, when you dip into a punch bowl you often have no idea what’s in it, or how potent it might be. And since many punches have a sweet, fruity taste, it’s easy to forget that a punch can pack a punch. Punch can be made with brandy, gin, sherry, whisky or rum. Indeed, it’s widely thought that the term “punch” is a shortened version “puncheon,” a cask used to transport rum. Others suggest it derives from the Hindu word for “five” (panch) referring to five ingredients in a concoction the British found in 16th century India and which has evolved into modern punch. References to punch in North America date as far back as the late 17th century and it was a staple of many a fancy social gathering. A fine punch bowl was a fixture in the best homes.

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Canadian Clubhouse Punch

Punch was especially popular as a holiday treat, and is a prominent feature of the buffet table at Sterling Cooper’s 1964 Christmas party. (Season 4, Episode 2, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.”) The firm was struggling and office manager/party planner extraordinaire Joan Harris was under instructions to keep costs down. But when Roger Sterling learns that Lee Garner, Jr., the arrogant, party-boy son of Lucky Strike owner Lee Garner, Sr., is going to be in town, they have to pull out all the stops and put on a show. Lucky Strike is the firm’s biggest account, Lee loves Christmas, and Roger will do whatever it takes to keep his most important happy.

We don’t know what went into the Sterling Cooper holiday punch, so we set out to come up with a punch for The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook that would have been fitting for the firm’s holiday party. Many were too sweet, others too potent. Then we came upon a 1961 advertisement for Canadian Club whisky that included “a recipe for an extra note of cheer,” called Canadian Clubhouse Punch. Since Canadian Club is Don Draper’s preferred brand of whisky we thought it was a natural for the Sterling Cooper holiday party, and we loved it too: a delicious blend of fruit juice, Canadian Club and brandy.

Another favorite punch in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook is The Stork Club Cocktail, a combination of fruit juices, triple sec and gin which works well as a single cocktail or a punch. At testing parties we hosted while preparing the book, The Stork Club Cocktail disappeared fast.

The famed gossip columnist Walter Winchell once called The Stork Club on 53rd Street near Fifth Avenue, “New York’s New Yorkiest place.” Opened in 1929, the Stork Club Can You Take a Punch? became the hub of New York society and attracted movie stars, aristocrats, showgirls, and business moguls. Money, power, and glamour mixed at the Stork Club as in no other place in New York, and its air of exclusivity made it all the more appealing. Among the legions of the rich and famous to frequent the Stork Club were Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, the Kennedys…and Sterling Cooper’s own Don Draper and his wife, Betty. When comedian Jimmy Barrett seals a deal for his new television show with ABC, the Stork Club hosts the celebration. (Season 2, Episode 7, “The Gold Violin.”) The Stork Club closed in 1965, but the legend lives on.

Today, punch is just as likely to be mixed in a trash bag-lined garbage can at a fraternity party as appear at a country-club wedding. But it was once a sign of sophistication and mixing one just right a form of alchemy.

Cooking Up The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook

Judy has written two cookbooks pairing food with literature, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to see why she was so curious about the food and drink seen in Mad Men. Just as authors use food and drink to establish time, place and mood, so do directors. Mad Men is justly renowned for its exquisite attention to period detail. If you grew up near New York in the 1960s, as we did, you know Mad Men, though filmed largely in Los Angeles, evokes 1960s Manhattan with arresting accuracy. Everything feels right about it: from the furniture and the narrow neckties to the restaurants and the food. It speaks volumes about Judy that while most female viewers were enjoying the cut of Don Draper’s jib, she was trying to figure out, “what did Betty use to glaze that ham in her fridge?”

 Cooking Up The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook

The Drapers and the Cleavers shared an era but not a lifestyle.

Judy was addicted to Mad Men for four seasons before she finally persuaded husband Peter to watch. And then he was hooked. Peter agreed: it was like peeking into our parents’ world with the benefit of adult perspective. The people in Mad Men may dress like the Cleavers and the Andersons, live in neat suburban homes like them and eat similar foods, too, but Mad Men serves up a much different, more complicated and cynical world than the one we thought we grew up in. Ward and June Cleaver never touched alcohol and there was never a hint they were unfaithful to each other, either.

Our goal was to create a cookbook with recipes for food and drink that appear in Mad Men and which were authentic to the times. And we wanted every recipe in our book had to tie in to a specific scene in Mad Men. Historical context was critical so viewers might better understand why the creators might have chosen these foods and these bars and restaurants to feature in the show. For example, why all the Mai Tais? The quick answer is that with the new addition of Hawaii to the Union, Americans were fascinated with Polynesian culture. Why the many French restaurants? Julia Child had just burst on the scene and was popularizing the French cusine detailed in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And America’s royalty, President and Mrs. Kennedy were so fond of French food, they hired a French chef as their White House chef. For Mad Men fans who are also foodies, we thought this kind of gastronomic history would enhance their appreciation of Mad Men and the pinpoint accuracy of its re-creation of 1960s New York.

Our first step in creating The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook was to note every item of foodTheUnofficialMadMenCookbook FrontCover 233x300 Cooking Up The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook and every restaurant seen or mentioned in the first four seasons of Mad Men, from Spam to ham, from caviar to Chicken Kiev; from absinthe and crème de menthe to Canadian Club whisky and Smirnoff’s vodka; from Keens Chophouse (now Keens Steakhouse) and the Forum of the Twelve Caesars (now defunct) to Barbetta and the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

Our next step was to obtain as many recipes as possible from restaurants, bars and hotels featured in the show that are still operating today. If the recipe had changed over the years, as it had, for example, for the Grand Central Oyster Bar’s Oysters Rockefeller, we wanted the recipe for the version served in 1962. Sometimes a concoction we were looking for had long since been extinct. The Beverly Hills Hotel hasn’t served a Royal Hawaiian cocktail in decades, but since Pete Campbell sips one poolside on a visit to L.A. we wanted the privilege of tasting one, too, and the Beverly Hills Hotel was able to oblige, though they had to dig deep to find the recipe.

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The authors taking a break from a marathon Mad Men cooking session.

Next we pored over countless period cookbooks, magazines and advertisements (after all, Mad Men is about the advertising industry), not only for recipes, but to learn about the dining and culinary trends of the era. We also looked for cookbooks the characters might have used, or those we saw on their kitchen counters. When Joan Harris (formerly Holloway) made that crown roast in her tiny kitchen to serve at a dinner party, we turned to The Small Kitchen Cookbook by Nina Mortellito (Walker and Company, 1964) for a recipe. When Pete Campbell asks his new wife to make rib eye in the pan, we thought a logical cookbook selection for Trudy cooking for her “ad man” would have been The Madison Avenue Cookbook by Alan Koehler (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962). Then we tested and retested recipes to make sure they worked and that the result was, if not delicious, as least close.

As Mad Men’s season five approaches, we look forward to renewing our pursuit inside the kitchens, restaurants and bars of Mad Men.