A Perfect Manhattan

The return of Mad Men is three months away, but faithful fans like us are already in countdown mode. Just what is it about Mad Men, set in 1960s New York, that so captivates millions of loyal viewers? What’s the secret in the sauce?

Good writing, strong acting, high production values and glamorous actors are surely part of the recipe. But it’s more than that. For baby boomers Mad Men is like time travel to the days of our childhoods.

As children of the 1960s who grew up in the New York suburbs, Mad Men is an A Perfect Manhattan extended look into our parents’ lives when they were our age. When they threw cocktail and dinner parties we’d quietly sneak half way down the stairs and steal a peak of their grown-up world of well-dressed men and women, cocktail glasses in one hand and cigarettes in the other. Mad Men, as one friend described it, allows us to see the world as our parents experienced it. We hope their lives weren’t as dark as Don and Betty Draper’s, but they surely weren’t as relentlessly sunny and innocent as June and Ward Cleaver’s either.

Mad Men also captures the emotional power of unforgettable historical moments that defined the 1960s, from the existential fear induced by the Cuban Missile Crisis to the sorrow of the Kennedy assassination and the hope or, in the case of some of the characters on Mad Men, the angst stirred by Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. That too, resonates with viewers old enough to have lived through those times.

But as we discovered while writing The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, the show is also a huge hit with college students and twenty-somethings. What is it about Mad Men that speaks to them?

Like other viewers they’re drawn to the smart writing, the aesthetic and the story. But when we probed a little deeper we discovered a fascination with a world that, at least on the surface, seems much different than the one they are living in.

 A Perfect ManhattanOne Wellesley College student, a young African-American woman told us, “I can’t believe my parents grew up in such a different world than me.” She was referring to the overt sexism and racism that passed for acceptable workplace behavior. Mad Men lets her see a world she said she cannot imagine.

A Tulane University sophomore echoed that sentiment and added that she found Mad Men empowering. At a time when most college woman are thinking about careers, she finds it fascinating to watch the female characters either acquiesce to or struggle against the limitations they faced in the 1960s.

“Watching the contrast in life style choices between Peggy, Joan and Betty it is so A Perfect Manhattan unbelievable that all of this was very real and normal,” she said. “My grandmother had aspirations of overcoming the stereotypical roles women were expected to fill which makes me think of the ever so determined Peggy! Although she attended college and was an intellectual, once she married my grandfather she never worked another day in her life. Watching the show I can imagine the struggle she faced being such an intellect and having to settle as a housewife.”

We sensed that despite the lingering racism and sexism in this country, these young women were grateful to be living in a more enlightened time when an African-American could be president of the United States and a woman could aspire to be the CEO of a major company, not just a secretary who’d be lucky to work her way up to a junior staff position.

For Mike, a recent graduate of Amherst College, Mad Men lets him see a pre-politically correct world in which people didn’t hide their prejudices.

 A Perfect Manhattan“The initial draw was how it recreated this era that seems, on the surface, so different from our own, “ he said, “women smoking while pregnant, people drinking at all hours of the day, blatant sexual discrimination in the office, etc. But the same problems presented in the show still exist today, yet they seem so much more appalling in a 60s drama than in real life. In today’s politically correct world inequality, racism, and sexism are more beneath the surface. Homophobia is masked as ‘protecting the sanctity of marriage,’ for example. But in Mad Men we see people without that veneer of political correctness. For someone of my generation it’s simultaneously shocking and refreshing.”

We don’t know if Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner could have foreseen the show’s appeal to a young generation of viewers born long after the 1960s, but in creating his perfect Manhattan he’s managed to create a program that is catnip to aging boomers and their children alike.

Aloha and Hau’oli Lanui!

If you were a kid in the late 1950s or early 1960s, as we were, chances are you owned a Hula Hoop.hula Aloha and Hauoli Lanui! And chances are your parents, or someone they knew, owned a Don Ho album or had a muumuu dress in her closet. At some point your family probably tried Japanese food at a Benihana Steak House or faux-Polynesian cuisine at a Trader Vic’s where the cocktails were adorned with orange slices, cherries, pineapple slices and a little umbrella or swizzle stick vaguely shaped like some Pacific island totem. After dinner, maybe you went to the drive-in to see Elvis in Blue Hawaii or Girls! Girls! Girls! also set in Hawaii.

Hawaii gained statehood in 1959, and as statehood approached and for years thereafter, Americans were simply gaga for anything that smacked of these exotic Pacific islands half way between Japan and the mainland. “Backyard luaus, the traditional native feast, are likely to become as popular as the hula hoop last summer,” declared New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne in 1959. That same year the Associated Press reported that tourism to Hawaii was expected to increase from 100,000 to one million visitor a year.

TraderVic1 207x300 Aloha and Hauoli Lanui!

Victor Bergeron, a/k/a Trader Vic, at work in Oakland, California

Mad Men, with its meticulous attention to detail, captures this slice of American life, especially when it comes to food and drink. Remember Don Draper’s first date with Bethany Van Nuys in Season 4, Episode 5 (“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”)? They’re seated at a teppanyaki table at a Benihana, which lacks the intimacy Bethany is seeking. But the Mai Tai she’s drinking looks delicious. The Mai Tai makes several appearances in Mad Men, a cocktail widely attributed to Victor Bergeron, the California-born restaurateur who founded the Trader Vic’s chain.

On New Year’s Eve 1964, Joan Holloway welcomes fiance Dr.Greg Miller home after a hard day at the hospital, places a lei around his neck, and leads him to a Hawaiian-style dinner she’s prepared (Season 4, Episode 3, “The Good News”). There’s a glazed ham decorated with pineapple and a mysterious blue liquid in a glass which we took to be a Blue Hawaii cocktail.

There’s also a nod to the 50th state in Season 2, Episode 11 (“The Jet Set” ) when Don Aloha and Hauoli Lanui! and Pete Campbell travel to Los Angeles for a meeting and Pete is seen poolside at The Beverly Hills Hotel sipping an orange-yellow cocktail. For The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook we asked the hotel to help us identify the concoction. They dug into the archives and determined it was a Royal Hawaiian, a cocktail popularized at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.

If you want to host a Hawaiian-style luau to welcome back Mad Men this March, or a Hawaii-themed holiday party this winter, there are a host of recipes in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook to choose from: Mai Tais, Blue Hawaiis, Royal Hawaiians, Rumaki, egg rolls Sterling Cooper-style, pineapple-glazed ham, and, to top if off, pineapple upside down cake. Even in New York in winter there are ways to bring the Hawaiian islands home. Hau’oli Lanui! (Happy Holidays!)

Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men-Style

Planning A Mad Men Style Holiday Dinner Party

 Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men Style

If you’d like to capture the Mad Men spirit at your party this holiday season, we’ve prepared a special holiday menu selected from recipes in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, from cocktails to dessert. (For more cocktail suggestions click here.) You can pick and choose depending on whether you simply want to host a cocktail party, a dinner party or something in between. The Canadian Clubhouse Punch can be made in large batches and allows guests serve themselves while you join in the festivities. We also chose a few recipes with appropriate color themes: the Jade and Bacardi Stinger – with green crème de menthe , and Sardi’s red and green hearts of palm salad.  Each recipe has a connection to a specific Mad Men episode. We also offer some holiday party tips from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook and other 1960s cookbooks.

Mad Men Holiday Menu


 Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men Style

Sterling Cooper Jade and/or Bacardi Stinger

(Season 1, Episode 12, “Nixon v. Kennedy”)

Canadian Clubhouse Punch and/or Lucky Strike Holiday Eggnog

(Season 4, Episode 2, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”)


mad men oysters rockefeller 199x300 Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men Style

Grand Central Oyster Bar’s Oysters Rockefeller

 (Season 1, Episode 7, “Red in the Face”)

Classic Shrimp Cocktail

(Season 1, Episode 4, “New Amsterdam”)

 Chutney Canapé Spread

(Season 3, Episode 9, “Wee Small Hours”)


mad men hearts of palm 233x300 Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men Style

Sardi’s Hearts of Palm Salad

(Season 2, Episode 5, “The New Girl”)

 Connie’s Waldorf Salad

(Season 3, Episode 6, “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”)

Main Courses

 Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men Style

 Beef Wellington

(Season 1, Episode 6, “Babylon”)

Pineapple-Glazed Ham

(Season 4, Episode 1, “Public Relations”)


 Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men Style

Lindy’s Cherry Cheesecake

(Season 4, Episode 9, “The Beautiful Girls”)

 Popcorn Balls

(Season 4, Episode 2, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”)

Tips for a Successful Mad Men Style Holiday Party

 Choose your guests wisely. How you mix your guests can be as important as how you mix your drinks.

(The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, 2011)

Hang sleigh bells by the front door for guests to ring to announce their arrival.

(Good Housekeeping Party Book, 1958)

Every course – from the appetizer to the dessert – should be gaily garnished in Christmas reds and greens to blend merrily with your own very special holiday centerpiece or tablecloth.

(Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook, 1967)

Give guests “free ladle privileges” at the punch bowl. They’ll “be in business for themselves, quaffeteria style.”

(Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, 1949)

 When it comes to hors d’oeuvres, “find a golden middle course…never serve too many…or too few.”

(The Instant Epicure Cookbook, 1963)

If you’re trying out a new dish this holiday season, take it for a test run before serving it to guests. Nothing will put a damper on the holiday spirit more than a misguided adventure in the kitchen.

(The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, 2011)

Happy Holidays!

 Holiday Dinner Party Mad Men Style

The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Contest!

OK, Mad Men fans, this is your chance to dine like Draper or drink like Sterling on the house at some of the finest restaurants and bars featured on Mad Men and in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook!

We asked a few of our favorite Mad Men haunts if they’d donate prizes for a contest we’re launching tomorrow in cooperation with our publisher, BenBella Books, and did we ever get some terrific ones.

Dinner for Four at Barbetta (Valued at $500)

barbetta1 300x231 The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Contest!If you’re the lucky winner of this exceptional prize you’re in for a real treat because owner Laura Maioglio, daughter of Sebastiano Maioglio who founded Barbetta in 1906, is going to make sure your dinner is matched with just the right wine. The oldest restaurant in New York still owned by the founding family, it’s also the oldest restaurant in the Theater District. This is fine dining at its absolute best. When Bethany Van Nuys, one of Don Draper’s many beautiful paramours wants a romantic evening, they head to Barbetta (Season 4, Episode 8, “The Summer Man”).

Dinner for Two at Keens Steakhouse (Priceless)

2.Keens Dining Room1 300x235 The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Contest!Quite possibly the best steaks in all of New York City and a Caesar Salad to beat all Caesar Salads, Keens, on West 36th Street, opened in 1885 and quickly became a destination. Its reputation is legendary; its Single Malt collection equally so. The premises are inspiringly beautiful and intimate. Keens is where Don Draper, Pete Campbell and Pete’s jai alai obsessed friend Horace (“Hoho”) Cook meet to discuss Hoho’s dreams of making jai alai bigger than baseball (Season 3, Episode 4, “The Arrangements”).

An Evening for Two at The Pierre Hotel’s Two E/Bar Lounge (valued at $150)

 The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Contest!When Don tries to rekindle the passion with department store heiress Rachel Menken, they meet at the Pierre’s Tea Room, now replaced by the Two E/Bar Lounge (Season 1, Episode 6, “Babylon”). The Pierre, on East 61st Street and now part of Taj Hotels and Resorts and Palaces, is the setting for several memorable scenes in Mad Men. We suggest spending at least some of your allowance on their outstanding Irish Coffee featured in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook.

A Gift Certificate for The Russian Tea Room (valued at $150)

 The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Contest!Roger Sterling loves Chicken Kiev because when you cut into it, “the butter squirts everywhere.” (Season 4, Episode 1, “Public Relations.”) He was referring to the Chicken Kiev at Jimmy’s LaGrange, a New York restaurant long gone.  So we turned to The Russian Tea Room on West 57th Street, figuring if anyone knows how to make a perfect Chicken Kiev surely it would be them. Use your gift certificate to treat yourself to this rich indulgence, or select anything on the menu that appeals to you.

Lunch at The Algonquin Hotel’s Famed Round Table (valued at $150)

 The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Contest!A favored meeting place for New York’s movers and shakers, The Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street is elegant and refined. Today, the hotel boasts a restaurant called The Round Table after the table at The Algonquin where actors, humorists, journalists and critics such as Harpo Marx, Heywood Broun and Tallulah Bankhead met daily for lunch daily from 1919 to 1929. When Jim Hobart of McCann Erickson tries to woo Don Draper away from Sterling Cooper (Season 1, Episode 9, “Shoot”) he suggests a meeting at The Algonquin. Though the meeting never takes place, you can imagine what might have happened if they’d been seated at the table next to you.

A Party Pack from Utz (Value $50)

 The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook Contest!Utz, makers of a variety of snack foods such as pretzels and potato chips, is an important Sterling Cooper client, but the relationship is put in jeopardy when wise-guy comedian Jimmy Barrett, hired as an Utz pitchman, insults the heavy set wife of the owner, Edith Schilling, during the filming of a commercial. (Season 2, Episode 2, “The Benefactor”). To salvage the account Don Draper arranges a dinner at Lutèce, a fine French restaurant, where Jimmy will apologize. Alas, Lutèce is no longer, but the good folks at Utz have donated a party pack you can use at your Mad Men-themed party or while watching the new season of Mad Men starting in March.

Here’s how to enter! (When you are redirected to the Facebook page, on the left side click on “Dine Like a Mad Man.”)