Mad Men and Thirsty Dames

screen grab by Steve Garfield
screen grab by Steve Garfield

Every time Mad Men comes back on the air, I, like so many fans, look upon that event as an excuse to break out the pencil skirts and stir up some cocktails. However, this time there is even more anticipation than usual because the end is nigh. Sadly, there will be only seven more episodes before Don, Peggy, Joan, Betty, Megan, Roger, Pete et al ride off into a paisley sunset.

The women characters on the show have always fascinated me. It would have been easy enough to write them in keeping with what many of us perceive as a time when women didn’t have much clout in either the workplace or the home place. It didn’t help that so many other programs we grew up with didn’t do much to change these subservient female role perceptions, even well into the 80s, 90s and 2000s. This show rose above those conventions by focusing on women who begin the storyline living within those standards but eventually become catalysts to the men around them, stirring things up in both settings to change their roles from the submissive to the dominant. If things aren’t going their way, they do the unthinkable - they make changes that will make them happier, not caring whether or not the men are cool with them. And they do it with a bracing drink in their hands.

The season will take place in the 1970s, however, looking back to how things started, I decided to read Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown, which was written in 1964, right around the second and third seasons of the show - when all hell started to break loose in that fictional booze-laden office.

Brown begins her feminist tome simply by giving women permission to be single. Keep in mind, this was a time when it was expected that everyone marry and make babies straight out of high school. However, Brown didn’t marry till she was 37, so this is also an unapologetic means of forgiving herself. She starts by defining the different types of men single women tend to have in their lives, the “availables,” she calls them, and I saw parallels with the show right away. These include the “but-who-needs-thems” (Peggy’s boyfriend Abe and Joan’s abusive relationship with Greg)  to the “Don Juans” (Don Draper) to the married men (Don again and Roger Sterling), the younger, the older and even the homosexuals (Peggy gets a game-changing makeover from copywriter Kurt). Nowhere does Brown choose them for us, but she does go on to describe what life is like in each instance if you pursue them, so the reader chooses her own adventure. She takes us through the fights, kissing and making up, the affairs, and finally, the holy grail, the “rich, full, life.”

My favorite bits are Brown’s tips on where to meet these men - “your job”, friends of friends, blind dates, sports (“Don’t forget too, how smashing girls look in ski clothes, skating skirts and tennis shorts…”) and even church. She defines how to be sexy. Number one, start enjoying sex (“If you think only the jeunes filles [enjoy sex]... you have been living in the rumble seat of an Essex roadster the past twenty-five years.”). She describes how some women are perceived as sexier than others and why (apparently the number of bangle bracelets one wears and how many hot fudge sundaes one eats has something to do with that.) She even devotes an entire chapter to how to be financially independent and gives incredibly sound advice for the ages about how to stick to a budget so you won’t turn men off with money-related stress.

Stinger at the Dead Rabbit, NYC. Photo by Amanda Schuster
Stinger at the Dead Rabbit, NYC. Photo by Amanda Schuster

This financial advice section includes tips on menus for budget lunches, when to splurge, solo nights in and entertaining. She even provides full menus with recipes for both food and drink! Excellent tip: “Always chill the cocktail glasses.”

So here, in honor of Helen Gurley Brown, who honestly gave me pause about my own single girl life in 2015, and the upcoming final season of Mad Men, I give you two drink recipes.

Everyone associates the Old Fashioned with Mad Men, since that’s typically been Don Draper's drink of choice. However, when I consider the women on the show, I always think of the Stinger. If memory serves, Peggy only ordered it once at a party in an earlier season, however, to me this is the epitome of the single gal cocktail of the 1960s and 70s. Its two ingredients are retro, elegant, simple, refreshing and approachable, but also sexy, boozy and mysteriously delicious. It’s a true statement maker when executed correctly.

The Stinger

Shake both ingredients with ice until very well chilled, like igloo strength cold. This will marry these seemingly disparate flavors together. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over one large cube or crushed ice.

And in honor of Sex and the Single Girl, herewith is an updated version of Helen Gurley Brown’s heady brunch cocktail, the Chloroform. Serves 4.

  • 6 cups Strong, brewed coffee
  • 375 ml Gin or Vodka of choice
  • One large container or 2 small of good vanilla ice cream, melted
  • 10 dashes Orange bitters
  • Nutmeg for garnish (optional)
  • Make ahead: freeze water in small breakfast bowl to make a large ice dome

Boil the coffee down in a saucepan until it is reduced to one cup and let cool to room temperature. Add the rest of the ingredients to a large serving bowl, (a single gal should always have a punch bowl, just in case, right?) Stir well and top with freshly grated nutmeg if using. Add ice dome. Knock your guests out.

Cheers to Helen Gurley Brown and the final episodes of Mad Men!

To purchase and download Sex and the Single Girl and other Mad Men era Ebooks, visit this section at Open Road Publishing.