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The Third Rail: Good Old-Fashioned Product Placement

With news last week that AMC’s Mad Men will return next summer, drinkers can look forward to a return of the best cocktails on television. Don Draper may be the biggest smoker on the small screen since Thomas the Tank Engine, but the variety of drinks and their relevance to the scenes are just as essential. The office drunk (well, it’s all relative) goes for cheap vodka. Fill a man with Gibsons (gin, dry vermouth, cocktail onion), oysters, and cheesecake if you want him to vomit. And serving beer at a dinner party ruins marriages.

Mad Men holds the scepter as the reining king of smart television, winning a Golden Globe for best TV Drama last night. It’s tough to watch without wanting to join Draper on an Old-Fashioned (orange slice, sugar, bitters, rye or bourbon), and fans are already learning how to make the great drinks of the show. But the history of pours popularized by movies and television doesn’t bode well for the future of these old school cocktails. Translation: No need to invest in that Ultra-Lounge, Vol. 16: Mondo Hollywood album just yet.

The classic case of a show spoiling a perfectly good drink is Sex and the City’s ubiquitous Cosmopolitan. The Cosmo is actually a tasty drink, made of Absolut Citron, triple sec (preferably Cointreau), fresh lime juice, and cranberry juice. Thanks to Carrie and friends though, now it’s just a punchline, the liquid equivalent of a Jimmy Choo heel or a Balenciaga bag, finally becoming so ubiquitous that even the fictional characters had to stop drinking them.

Not that becoming popular as a punchline has to be a bad thing for a drink. When writing The Big Lebowski, were the Coen Brothers masochistically planning to inflict White-Russian drinking games on us? Perhaps. They did make No Country for Old Men, after all. Unless your name is the Dude, tossing back nine of these milk-vodka-Kahlua concoctions matches the effect getting hit with Javier Bardem’s “captive bolt” pistol. [Editor's note: One of my favorite bars in Park Slope serves up Vegan White Russians that have never done me wrong; maybe soy fights hangovers? Find a recipe here.]

And then, sometimes even bad publicity can be good publicity. What does a violent small-town sociopath drink? Heineken? To paraphrase Dennis Hopper: You sir, are incorrect. Pabst Blue Ribbon may now be the ubiquitous cheap beer of hipsters nationwide, but Hopper’s manic endorsement in David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet was the first indication of the beer’s coming cult status. Just don’t let it get warm.

For now, we’re glad to see that the classic drinks of Mad Men are back in style. Hell, maybe we can start ordering a Tom Collins more often. But be warned: the minute someone serves one made with sour mix, we’re going to start watching Weeds — which could definitely lead to trouble.

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