Our Sunday nights continue to be an empty, Mad Men-less void. It's painful. In what may be (another) desperate attempt to mitigate the hurt, we sent Jessica Olien on a tour of some of the bars and restaurants that have featured prominently in the show's three seasons. Not surprisingly, they aren't quite as glamorous as they were during the Don Draper Era.
In Mad Men, Sardi's was the scene of scandal. The birthplace of the Tony Awards, the restaurant's iconic walls are lined with caricatures of New York theater royalty, and it is here, in Sardi's once elegant dining room, that funny man Jimmy Barrett apologizes to the owner of the Utz potato chips company for calling his wife fat. After, that is, Don has had his way with Bobbie Barrett near the bathrooms.
Things have a changed a bit at Sardi's. There may once have been a time when cheese dip was sophisticated, but a tub for every four feet of bar space resting atop a platter of Ritz crackers does not create much sense of elegance. The bar upstairs is far superior to the smaller area downstairs, which has about as much stale charm as a theater lobby, featuring a comically inept bartender dressed like the killer primate in Monkey Shines.
My much better upstairs bartender is a 10-year veteran of Sardi's, and he makes it clear that he disapproves of the Ritz crackers. "I like those crackers that come in different shapes," he says. "Sociables!" He also likes those mints with the flowers on top, which I pretend to remember for the sake of conversation. He is the most charming part of either bar, aside from the cheese dip, which goes quite well with the mini-pretzels. As we continue our cracker conversation (water crackers are good, but don't hold up under toppings) Jude Law's giant furrowed brow looks in at us from the bank of windows pointing at the Broadhurst Theater. The place gets packed before and after shows, especially around the holidays.
For some reason I expect the Oak Bar to be sad, but I'm quickly won over by its charming location inside the ever-elegant Plaza. (The Plaza for Christ's sake!) When I arrive, the bar is full and I can't get to it. I try to sneak in and order a drink next to two men discussing the tax benefits of having a home in Monaco. When I reach across them to pay for my Manhattan, the one with the Salvatore Romano sheen to his hair waves my card away: "For making you wait," he explains in a smooth European accent as we toast.
It is at this dark wood bar that Roger Sterling invites himself over to Don's house for some of Betty Draper's meat and potatoes, a prelude to him coming onto her in the Drapers' kitchen.
My friend Aimee shows up just as a couple leaves their stools. "Ooh nut bowl!" Aimee squeals as we sit down below a very un-Mad Men flat screen glowing green with football turf. The barstools are immovable, set back from the bar just far enough to accommodate a man's long frame, whereas my legs dangle childishly and my drink travels a precarious distance from the bar to reach my mouth. Being Peggy wasn't easy. Betty in all likelihood wouldn't even be here. If she were she'd be demurely sipping a spritzer where a tourist family now sits looking at a guidebook, their tracksuit-wearing child chewing intently on the straw from his Shirley Temple.
Aimee pokes at the nut mixture. "Delightful," she sighs, licking salt off her fingers, "Stop me! Each nut is better than the last!" The waiter brings her bill. It is $19.50 for the one drink. As we leave the hotel, the doorman starts the revolving door turning before we even reach it and we walk out onto the dark sidewalk across from Central Park. I get a glimpse of the front of the hotel and remember another scene from the show. Joan and Roger are having their affair here. To keep things a secret they both leave the hotel and stand on opposite sides of the entrance waiting for a taxi.
Inside the Bars of Mad Men
The Roosevelt Hotel
Like Don Draper at the end of season three, The Roosevelt Hotel is loosing its edge. Worn carpets in the lobby set off a central oversized—and extremely ugly—floral arrangement. The Roosevelt's modern-day charms are limited despite its historic and ornately decorated interior. In contrast to The Plaza, the staff at The Roosevelt is distracted. Tourists and their broods of grubby-fingered children wander aimlessly around the main floor. Aimee is with me and decides she will not be using the last of her money for a drink at the historic Madison Club Lounge (setting of the real-life season three premier viewing party) in the lobby.
The bar is the site of many character-developing scenes in the first two seasons of Mad Men: Salvatore carries on a flirtation with the Belle Jolie lipstick rep at the bar, which ends with a proposition over dinner; when Don gets the boot from Betty, he stays in one of The Roosevelt's diminutive rooms. Don's own well-polished children come to stay with him one night and the broken family eats room service while a secretly pregnant Betty has sex with a stranger in a bar down the street.
If I wanted revenge, I might bring someone to The Oyster Bar at Grand Central. Like the world's most expensive diner, the lighting feels off and the place gives me a strange feeling of anxiety. I know it's a landmark and I'm supposed to like it but the atmosphere is nothing like the close, dim glow that surrounded Don and Roger Sterling when they came here for a martini-soaked lunch the day after Roger came on to Don's wife.
After downing drink upon drink and two oyster platters each, the super-suave duo returns to Sterling-Cooper to find that the elevator is out of service. Don easily passes Roger, clutching his faulty heart on the staircase, and goes into the office to their meeting; Sterling arrives soon after, slick and oyster-colored, abruptly vomiting at the shoes of his clients. Thankfully, this does not happen to me.
P.J. Clarke's is packed at happy hour and is so full of men in sports coats that I don't even notice my friend Todd for the first fifteen minutes I'm there. The bar's stained glass and wooden decor makes it feel warm. It's the only place so far that hasn't been full of tourists. I order a beer for five dollars and 50 cents ("fife-fity, sweethaart") from a bartender with floppy hair and a bow tie. Behind me, a chef in a straw fedora arranges seafood plates like an artist. Oysters rest on beds of ice as bargoers dip gigantic shrimp into bowls of cocktail sauce. It is vibrant in here and I like it.
In my favorite episode of the entire series, Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell have sex on his office couch early in the morning. In the afternoon, Peggy gets her first copywriting assignment. Everyone at Sterling-Cooper leaves work early and goes out to celebrate at P.J. Clarke's. They gather in the back of the bar and someone puts Chubby Checker singing "The Twist" on the jukebox (which still rests against the one of the back walls) making all of the girls squeal in excitement. Peggy, who is obviously having one of the best days of her life, twists seductively toward Pete Campbell, who sits stoically against the wall. When she reaches him, he looks at her and says coldly, "I don't like you like this." Peggy turns away, tears collecting in her eyes.