If you’re planning a Mad Men-style party to welcome Don, Roger and Betty back this season, establish the mood with episodes of Mad Men (with the sound off) running on televisions strategically located in your party space. Your favorite Mad Men characters will virtually be guests at your affair! A little Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald playing quietly in the background will also help to set the mood. Let your guests know to dust off those skinny ties and hip-hugging dresses: dressing the part will help capture the Mad Men aura.
Ask guests to bring any 1960s memorabilia they have on hand – cigarette holders, serving dishes, posters, postcards and political buttons will provide instant decorations, as well as make for lively conversation.
Cocktails will certainly be a highlight of any Mad Men event, but unless you plan to have a bartender, keep it simple or you’ll spend the evening behind the bar. Choose a few favorites from our book, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men, like Don’s Old Fashioned or Roger’s Martini courtesy of the Grand Central Oyster bar. For authenticity, your Old Fashioned should be made with Canadian Club rye whisky — Don’s preferred brand — and be sure to muddle the cherry.
Mai Tais make quite a few appearances in Mad Men and are an excellent alternative for those who prefer their cocktails on the sweet side. You can also allow guests to serve themselves, and have more time to mingle, by serving a pre-made punch – a staple at 60s parties. Canadian Clubhouse Punch and a large batch of the Stork Club Cocktail have disappeared quickly at our Mad Men events. Another favorite is the Sidecar, a classic mid-century cocktail. Our recipe came from Doug Quinn of P.J. Clarke’s, the Third Avenue bar where the Sterling Cooper crowd heads after work. Quinn calls the sidecar “two parts strong, one part sweet, one part sour.”
Beyond the recipes for Mad Men dishes and drinks in our book, we include dozens of helpful hints for your cocktail hour or dinner party. A few of the most important:
• Have plenty of ice ready in advance (a block of ice for punch) because nothing puts a damper on a cocktail party than luke warm drinks
• Cracked ice will chill drinks faster than cubes
• Mix drinks by hand, not in a blender — blending ice waters down the drink
• If the recipe calls for sugar, use superfine granulated sugar and dissolve it with liquid before adding ice
• Harmonize your cocktails and appetizers – tequila and rum-based cocktails go well with guacamole and chips while Campari and soda go nicely with Italian meats
When it comes to appetizers, you can make your role as host or hostess easier by following a few simple rules we gleaned from various 1960s hostess books and magazine articles:
• If dinner is to follow, plan your hors d’oeuvres accordingly: if dinner is rich, keep the appetizers light; if dinner is light go richer and more plentiful on the appetizers
• If you’re not serving dinner but your cocktail party spans the dinner hour, go even richer and more filling hors d’oeuvres
• Pass the hors d’oeuvres twice then let guests help themselves
Chef James Beard wrote, “if you are fond of your guests, don’t make guinea pigs of them.” So, if you’re trying out a new dish or cocktail, give it a test run first.
You’ll find recipes for the dishes featured on Mad Men in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook – many of them from the actual restaurants and bars depicted in the show and others from classic cookbooks of the era. Among our favorite easy-to-prepare appetizers are Deviled Eggs, mini cheese balls and a variety of canapés, miniature toasts with various toppings, including chutney, shrimp curry butter and mushroom. When it comes to main courses, Beef Wellington and Joan’s Crown Roast are more elegant choices, but others that are just as delicious can be easy to make. Simple favorites are Sardi’s Hearts of Palm Salad, Keens’ Caesar Salad, Lutèce Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot Sole Amandine Waldorf –Style with Julia Child’s Potatoes au Gratin. And for dessert? We love Kitty’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake for a dessert that really screams 1960s.
No matter what’s being served at the bar, the buffet or the dinner table, the food and drink isn’t the most important ingredient for a successful Mad Men party: it’s the people. “Remember the Montagues and the Capulets and plan accordingly,” wrote Beard. So, if you’re inviting Don Draper, you may not want to invite Henry Francis.
Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin are co-authors of The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men
Images courtesy of Nina Gallant.