If you subscribe to the viewpoint, as I do, that Mad Men is a narrative account of the End of Men, then, as corollary, the Old-Fashioned is the prop for a Masculine Revival Pageant. Look, I get it. I’m the guy at the bar in the tight jeans, with a little carpet peaking out from my tailored button-down Oxford, and a dark, vintage blazer, sipping a whiskey drink and trying to look like The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Mad Men is set in the 1960s. Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Price could see the writing on the wall. One day in the not-too-distant future, their grandsons would be manning the kiss-&-go lane at the local elementary school and trading recipes for sneaking kale into their kids’ birthday cakes. So they clung to their corner offices and their mistresses and their whiskey.
We like to think we’re better than all that, but let’s face it: Whiskey makes us feel like men. My wife can’t handle the burn, and that just makes me want to drink it even more. And so, somehow, “Man among Men” Don Draper, who kicked off this Old-Fashioned craze, has convinced us that his drink of choice is the cocktail to hold off the masculine apocalypse. Now every fresh-faced intern thinks he’s a badass because he can order a drink that doesn’t involve Coke spraying from a nozzle.
Well, bullshit. There’s a dainty little sugar cube in there, you lightweight. And, unless you go out of your way to stop him, the bartender’s going to fill your glass with ice, which is going to turn to water before you’re halfway through your drink. If I order an Old-Fashioned, my wife is liable to drink most of it, because you can barely feel the burn. I like muddled fruit and angostura bitters in my whiskey as much as the next guy. But let’s stop pretending the Old-Fashioned makes us men. It’s about as watered-down a whiskey drink as you’re going to find.
Instead, I offer to you the Manhattan, neat. No ice. No sugar. Just a touch of sweet vermouth to dull the edge and give a little color. Maybe some nice brandied cherries to class it up. Perhaps you’ve got your own drink to out-Draper Draper. If you say it’s straight bourbon, I’m with you. Just don’t tell me the Old-Fashioned makes you a man. It’s a prop.
Now excuse me while I make plans for next week’s play-date.