Classic Cocktails Going Mainstream: Drinks Take Center Stage in Mad Men


I sometimes joke about the habit of some serious modern bartenders to signify their profession by sporting moustaches, vests, cuffs and other physical accoutrements of a bygone age. You can see this on display here in town at places like Rickhouse, Bourbon and Branch and on various other "serious" bartenders in town. But, on the other hand, I also admire it. It's nice to see people with such professional pride, and I like the fact that their garb address the historical/conservational side of what they do, since many of them are celebrated more for their brands of innovative mixology.

But the classic cocktail subculture these guys inhabit is slowly making its way into the mainstream. Look at the New York Times' recent article on the measures taken to achieve cocktail accuracy in the series Mad Men. Of course, the hardcore geeks like Drinkboston were anxiously awaiting the first appearance in the series of, yes, Old Overholt Rye Whiskey. I haven't watched the show, but am about to start--season 1's arriving via Netflix today. Mad Men's network, AMC, is taking this stuff seriously: they even have a 1960s cocktail guide web page detailing the drinks on the show. (Note: some of these cocktails may or may not be considered "classic." Most are not good drinks, as the 60s were really part of America's post-Prohibition cocktail dark ages, from which we're now in a renaissance.)

Likewise, it was awesome to see cocktail historian and Esquire drinks writer David Wondrich on the Colbert Report last week. Wondrich got great treament from Colbert and held up his scholarly/drinkerly end of the bargain very well, getting a lot of good nuggets about American cocktail history in on a huge national program.

I should also point out that The Times also did a huge feature last month in its T Magazine on the classic, but under-appreciated cocktail, the Sazerac.

I'd love to see this cocktailian turn in the mainstream media continue. HBO gave us Deadwood, set during the gold rush. What about a show about the peregrinations of that era's most famous bartender Jerry Thomas (who spent good time in gold rush San Francisco)? Or maybe a show about "Cocktail" Bill Boothby, former bartender at the Palace Hotel, author of one of the first major cocktail manuals, saloon owner, minstrel performer, and former assemblyman of California? Now that would be "classic" cocktail-oriented and darn good television, to boot.

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