Ah, 2007: the year in which we met the first-ever iPhone, a Presidential candidate called Barack Obama... and an inscrutable ad man named Don Draper.
With its final seven episodes kicking off on Sunday, April 5, AMC’s Mad Men is coming to a close after almost eight years, and it’s hard to overstate the phenomenal, uncommon level of cultural saturation it’s achieved. Ask someone who doesn’t watch it what Mad Men is about, and they’ll mention the clothes (divine), the decor (sleek), and of course — always — the drinks. The show introduced us not only to the impossibly suave, lantern-jawed Don, but also a new generation of TV viewers to old-fashioned cocktails like Manhattans and martinis, Gimlets and Sidecars. From cocktail guides and suggested drink pairings to reviews for historical booze accuracy and Mad Men drinking games (drink every time Harry Crane says something obnoxious!) the online industry that "the booze of Mad Men" has spawned suggest a viewership that’s as much in love with the look, feel and lifestyle of this show as it is with its story.
Yet for a piece of pop culture that's basically credited for reviving public interest in stylish drinking, Mad Men’s relationship with alcohol is characteristically complex. The culture of retro cocktails that the show reignited, or perhaps merely fueled, is intriguing considering how much of the show is actually about excessive, even abusive drinking — a fact that gets lost among all those Manhattans. It’s also something that's gained undeniable poignancy with the announcement that Jon Hamm, the actor who portrays the alcoholic Don Draper so indelibly, recently emerged from a stint in rehab for alcohol addiction.
The “Mad Men Effect”
How much did this show influence our imbibing? Back in 2013, New York bartenders were apparently reporting a “Mad Men effect” on drinking habits: namely, “seeing more people ordering Manhattans, or any of your classic drinks, because they know what it is.” Over here in the Bay Area I put the question to Matt Grippo of San Francisco’s Blackbird bar, who agrees that “Mad Men definitely influenced people's drinking habits.” Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Martinis, he says, “are being ordered very often, every day,” and often with a knowing nod to the show. “‘How Don Draper of you’ — that’s been said in front of me [at the bar] many times,” says Grippo. (“Now if only we can get everyone to order gin Martinis with a proper amount of Vermouth added and no olive juice, I will give the show some major props,” he adds.)
Morgan Schick, Creative Director for the Bon Vivants mixology team behind SF cocktail haven Trick Dog, has a slightly different take. While the show “became a shorthand for the classics for a while,” Schick says that rather than inspiring our yearning for all things retro, Mad Men just tapped into it; that his clientele’s craving for those classic cocktails just “happened at the same time — possibly for the same underlying reasons that Mad Men was successful.” He’s also keen to dispel the notion of bartenders rolling their eyes at the umpteenth order of Manhattans by twentysomething Draper wannabes. “If anything it was nice to have guests with a new-found interest in some of the drinks that we all like anyway,” he says.