Behind the Bar: Mad Men

With the new season of Mad Men starting on Sunday night, we decided to ask master mixologist and advisory board member Dale DeGroff about the accuracy of the drinking portrayed on the show, since he was employed at an ad agency before becoming a bartender. Here are his thoughts on how the real Don Drapers operated.

It was 1972, and I worked in the mailroom of a small, New York-based creative agency fronted by three perfectly unmatched partners who turned out top-of-the-line ads. They were truly the Shakespeares of the 30-second spot.

Two of them were Olympic drinkers, and one never touched a drop of liquor. They arrived at 7:30 every morning and closed the office well after 7:30 every night. Lunch was a bar-side table at the Four Seasons restaurant, complete with telephones, clients, an executive assistant and, naturally, cocktails. They began with Dry Gin Martinis and Scotch poured liberally over jumbo cubes. Then wine with lunch (whether they ate or not). And they finished in style: ice-cold Massenez Poire Williams (French pear brandy) in real crystal cordial glasses. They were back in the office by 3 and were as sharp as they were when they started in the morning.

Dinner was always on the town for two of the partners, the two that loved their drink and excelled in client appreciation. And they owned the dream account: Restaurant Associates, which ran some of the city’s most famous establishments, including the aforementioned Four Seasons, La Fonda Del Sol and The Forum of the Twelve Caesars (in fact, it’s the site of Peggy Olson’s failed birthday celebration in Mad Men season four). They could easily score the toughest reservations in the Big Apple. This access was a powerful aphrodisiac when it came to wooing new clients.

Cocktail hour was long, and when Cutty Sark was an account, they drank Cutty Sark straight (they also drank Cutty Sark Rusty Nails). They never left without the perfect nightcap: Cognac Stingers shaken very hard and served over crushed ice in Old Fashioned glasses. And what do you drink after a Stinger? Why, another Stinger, of course.

Saturday or Sunday afternoons were spent over brunch with clients, sometimes family, but more often than not very special guests like Marc Connelly, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and former member of the Algonquin Round Table.

After refreshing Mimosas floated with Cointreau and made with real Champagne, Connelly ordered the wine, and he startled the waiter after nosing it with this reply: “Young man…Take this bottle away and break it…Smash the cask it came from…And uproot the vineyard.”

We all froze—and then burst into laughter and proceeded to enjoy several more bottles of the same wine.

I watched and listened, laughed and learned. I learned what bars can be and how to be a part of that special family. I learned how to order, what to order and why; how to tip and how to treat the man behind the bar. Most importantly, I learned from these Mad Men how I wanted to be treated when I bellied up with cash in my hand.

Then one day I quietly slipped behind the bar, and that was a good day.

Master mixologist Dale DeGroff is the author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. He is also a advisory board member.

(Photo courtesy Frank Ockenfels/AMC)

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