It’s chilly here in Northeast, and throughout much of the country, so it’s a perfect time to celebrate National Irish Coffee Day.
Our favorite version of this mid-century creation is from the Pierre Hotel, and we’re happy to share it.
From The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin (SmartPop, 2011)
Pierre Hotel’s Irish Coffee
Season 1, Episode 6, “Babylon”
It doesn’t take long for Don Draper and Rachel Menken, the daughter and heir apparent of a Jewish department store owner, to become romantically involved. But the romance ends abruptly when Don asks her to run away with him and she refuses. Eager to see her again, Don calls asking to meet, saying it’s strictly business and that he wouldn’t have called unless it was urgent. Rachel reluctantly agrees to meet Don for “just lunch” and tells him to meet her the next day at the Tea Room in the Pierre Hotel.
The famed Pierre on East 61st Street, now part of the Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces, is the setting for several memorable scenes in Mad Men. It’s where Peggy and Duck Phillips have a tryst (Season 3, Episode 7, “Seven Twenty-Three”), and when the principals of Sterling Cooper maneuver to start their new agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, they temporarily set up shop in Room 435 of the Pierre (Season 3, Episode 13, “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”).
Don tries to charm Rachel when they meet in the Tea Room, but she reminds him sternly that he said he had urgent business to discuss. To underscore her determination to keep the meeting strictly business, she orders only coffee. “Irish coffee?” asks Don, hoping to take the chill out of their encounter. “Coffee,” she replies.
That the Tea Room at the Pierre served Irish coffee may have been one of the fruits of an advertising push that started in 1956 to market Irish whiskey in the United States. As the New York Times reported on October 2, 1956, a reception at the Irish Products Center on East 50th Street featured representatives from five of Ireland’s biggest distillers and an Irish singer and television personality, Carmel Quinn, who “explained that Irish coffee consists of hot coffee, with sugar and Irish whiskey, topped by whipped cream.”
Simple to describe; not as easy to make. According to Andrew Smith, editor of The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink (Oxford University Press, 2007), Irish coffee was purportedly invented in 1943 by Joe Sheridan, the chef at the airport in Limerick, Ireland, to soothe exhausted New York–bound passengers whose flight had to return to Limerick because of bad weather. A passenger on the flight brought the recipe back to San Francisco, where he and Jack Koeppler, a bartender at the Buena Vista Hotel, tried to re-create it. At first, the whipped cream kept sinking to the bottom, but then Koeppler eventually met Sheridan and learned the secret: “The coffee must be lightly sweetened, the cream must be both fresh and softly whipped, and the cream must be poured into the hot coffee over the back of a spoon.”
The Pierre of the early 1960s, as you would expect, looked quite different than the Pierre of today, especially since undergoing a $100 million renovation in 2009. The Tea Room is gone, but the hotel’s elegant Two E Bar/Lounge still serves what it calls a “Classic Irish Coffee,” and graciously shared the recipe with us. If Rachel and Don were to meet at the Pierre today, we’d definitely recommend she indulge in the Irish coffee. You don’t need to be Irish to love Irish coffee!
Delicious Irish Coffee from THE UNOFFICIAL MAD MEN COOKBOOK by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin courtesy of The Pierre Hotel, New York, New York, as referenced in Season 1 of Mad Men, when Don Draper and Rachel Menken meet at the Pierre Hotel.
- 2 ounces Irish Whiskey (see note)
- 3 ½ teaspoons light brown sugar
- 4 ounces hot coffee
- Whipped cream, for topping
- Stir whiskey, brown sugar and coffee together in a mug. Add whipped cream on top.
Note: The Pierre Hotel uses Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey, but says the drink also works well with John Jameson Irish Whiskey. Any variety of whiskey made in Ireland would suffice, hence the name “Irish Coffee.”