On Monday, I spent some time talking about Piper-Heidsieck. My thanks to Eric who sent me an image of a beautiful vintage poster of a Piper-Heidsieck bottle. It’s so appropriate considering Mad Men is set in the world of advertising. This print ad is from 1953, displaying the 1949 vintage. The bottle is appears identical to the one Pete opened in Sunday’s episode. If indeed it was a 1949 vintage, I have no doubt it cost our fictional character a fair amount of his fictional 1960s dollars. I bet it tasted pretty darned good though.
One item I’d like to point out about the above ad is that the bubbly is poured into a regular wine glass and not a champagne flute. Now, maybe the good folks at Piper-Heidsieck can shed some light on that choice for me. In fact, the classic tulip shaped champagne flute was in wide use by the 1930s. However, a lot of people were still using the champagne coupe, from the late 1800s. (A myth states the coupe was molded from the breast of Marie Antoinette.) In fact, in 2009, we found the characters of Mad Men enjoying some Veuve Clicquot in coupes.
To end on a note of utter whimsy, you’ll notice there is a miniature circus, including a rather talented giraffe, taking over the ad. Piper-Heidsieck is a Champagne House that’s always been slightly unconventional, even when everything was conventional in the 1940s and ’50s. In 2008 they embraced their inner Lewis Carroll and released an upside-down bottle designed by Viktor & Rolf. If you were feeling exravagant, you might also pick up an upside down ice bucket and flutes.
Screen capture, AMC TV’s Mad Men, 2012
In last night’s Mad Men, I was given a lot of options. I could write about cocktails, about Canadian Club, Jack Daniel’s, Stoli, or even Chivas Regal. But near the end, I was given the perfect opportunity to wax on a bit about my favorite beverage of all … champagne.
Near the 40 minute mark, Pete is announcing the Mohawk Airlines win and deftly putting down Roger, all while opening a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck champagne. I can’t zoom in far enough without going blurry, so I can’t tell you whether it’s a vintage year or not. So let’s start with a quick refresher on champagne itself.
There are a lot of tasty sparkling wines out there, including cava and just good ol’ sparkling wine. It’s not uncommon for these to be made using the age old Champenois process. However, in order to be called “champagne,” it needs to come from the Champagne region of France, no matter how many bubbles are racing to the top.
Champagne is divided into vintage and non-vintage (NV) wine. NV Champagnes are the most common and often include grapes from 3 or more harvests. Every so often, a vintage is so remarkable that the winemaker will declare it a vintage year. Remember that while one House may declare a vintage, another may not. Vintage and NV wines are at the discretion of the winemaker.
Bubbly is made from any one or more of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes. It also comes in several different styles that you’ll see on the label. Blanc de blancs means that the wine was produced from all white grapes. In Champagne, this means the wine is 100% chardonnay. Blanc de noirs means the champagne is produced from pinot noir, pinot meunier, or a blend of the two.
You should also pay attention to the sweetness levels, denoted by French terms on the label. Extra Brut is usually very dry champagne, whereas Brut is dry, but may still be a bit rich on the finish. Extra-Sec and Sec are usually medium dry wines and Demi-Sec is usually the sweetest style you’ll find on the market.
To tie it all back into our episode, let’s talk a little about Piper-Heidsieck. Piper-Heidsieck is in the Reims region of Champagne and has been around since 1785. Now one of the largest Champagne Houses, it started as the house of Heidsieck with Florens-Louis Heidsieck at the helm. Florens-Louis passed away in 1828 and his nephew Christian took over, with help from his cousin, Henri Piper. The House didn’t become a hyphenate until 10 years later, when Christian died. Cousin Henri took this chance to marry the newly widowed wife of Christian (oh yes!) and the house of Piper-Heidsieck was created.
Piper-Heidsieck has had some fun over the years, but in 2009 they really attracted my attention with Le Ritual – a collaboration with Christian Louboutin. Really, shoes and champagne … of course I noticed this.
Le Rituel is a box set containing a glass stiletto, complete with signature red sole, and a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck. The collaboration was in homage to an odd period in the 1880s when there was an strange and decadent high-society “ritual” of drinking from women’s shoes.
Last night I went on the Queen City Under Ground Tour from American Legacy Tours and I was amazed. I’ve been on at least three of their tours and every time I go I learn something new about the greater Cincinnati area. This tour was focused on the Over the Rhine area where there were over 163 saloons, beer gardens, theatres, and breweries were on Vine St. in the late 1800s. The breweries would store and make their beer underground the buildings in these huge tunnels/rooms (the rooms are the sub and sub-sub basements). Some of the tunnels/rooms I was standing in were at least 20 feet high, it was amazing. They had tunnels that were underneath the streets that go in between the barreling and bottling buildings and onto other buildings.
Did you know that Cincinnati drank over two and a half times more beer than the national limit in the late 1800s? That’s a lot of beer! Besides seeing the underground breweries and historical buildings we saw where the new Christian Moerlein brewery will be located. There was a tunnel that was boarded up from the one building that led into the Christian Moerlein brewery but we didn’t get to see that tunnel. The future home of the Christian Moerlein Brewery was once the Malt and Lager house of the Kaufman Brewery that was one of the breweries during the late 1800s. Christian Moerlein Brewery was the only Cincinnati beer from that time that was exported internationally.
The tour was a great history lesson and shows how much Over the Rhine have developed in the last decade. Please note that the tour is a walking tour and to get to the tunnels you will have to go down a few flights of steps. The tour runs till the end of November every Saturday and Sunday. Please check their website for more information.
A couple of months ago, I was sent a story by Stephan Visakay about swizzle sticks (which I happen to collect). I was so thrilled, I asked him, with Maddy Lederman, to write an article for the blog.
“The difficulty of securing a cherry resting at the bottom of a cocktail glass without resorting to boorish antics obnoxious to people accustomed to polite social usages is so well known as to have become a matter of public comment and jest.”
In his three-page patent copy, Jay Sindler used the cherry to describe how necessary his new invention, the Swizzle Stick, was, but legend has it the idea was sparked by an olive.
It was February 1934, a few months after Prohibition had ended. Sindler, an employee of the Converse Rubber Company and an avid inventor, sat contemplating his martini at the Boston Ritz Carlton’s bar one night, faced with the challenge of removing his olive without dipping his fingers into his gin. I like to think Sindler was on his second or third martini when it all came together. He envisioned a small spear with a paddle-like handle, imprinted with an establishment’s name like a miniature billboard. It would be something the patrons could take home, cheaper than a book of printed matches and cheaper still than the cost of vanishing ashtrays and cocktail glasses. Sindler’s patent, number 1,991,871, was granted on February 19, 1935.
Polite society caught on to Sindler’s invention and his new company Spir-it was off to a promising start.
There was some competition, however. With Repeal, all the great glass companies began to manufacture bar ware. Stirring rods once used by 1920’s Flappers were now mass-produced. Unlike the swizzle stick, glass swizzles didn’t have a pointed spear for fruit garnishes and were costly to silk-screen with a hotel logo. Some glass companies had the novel idea of inserting a tube of paper with advertising copy into a glass rod and sealing the end like a message in a bottle, but costly and impractical, this didn’t last. Today this type of hollow (and easily broken) stirrer is one of the most sought after by collectors. Other attractive materials include Bakelite and Catalin.
Major developments in plastic manufacturing came along with World War II. By the 1950’s swizzle sticks came in an incredible array of shapes and colors and served as inexpensive advertisements for clubs, casinos, restaurants and airlines. All establishments had a custom swizzle stick even if they made do with the cheaper, stock version; a straight, tapered rod with a paddle signboard imprinted with a tavern’s logo.
Into the 1960’s and the Space Age, there was a boom in the electronics industries calling for precision plastic parts which led to new technologies in thermosetting plastic injection molding. The period from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s was a Golden Age for signature swizzle sticks.
Drinks served on TWA flights sported a red propeller swizzle. At Trader Vic’s, a Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddle with a Tiki God handle graced the drinks at the venerable bar. The Thunderbird Hotel and Swim Club in Miami Beach featured a Flying Thunderbird on top of it’s swizzle with the name in large script over the shaft. Playboy’s signature bunny-head sat atop their swizzles which, for some reason, were extra long. Many people saved the Playboy swizzle if they ever came across it. In fact, most of us have a few swizzle sticks saved somewhere. Taking a swizzle as a memento was encouraged. They were a promotional calling card or a remembrance of a wonderful trip or night on the town and they disappeared from nightclubs and hotel bars as fast as they were set out.
The swizzle sticks’ popularity didn’t last forever, or even very far into the 1970’s. For example, during the Carter years, the White House was dry. It was beer and wine only at State functions, no doubt the reason why Jimmy was a one term President. When he derided the “fifty dollar martini lunch” for businessmen, former House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX), replied, “If the Good Lord hadn’t intended us to have a three martini lunch, then why do you suppose He put all those olive trees in the Holy Land?”
Inventor Jay Sindler would have agreed.
Check out clubs such as the International Swizzle Stick Collectors Association (ISSCA), www.swizzlesticks-issca.com.
ISSCA President Ray Hoare and thousands of collectors world-wide, sociologists and anthropologists agree that these miniature, pop-culture icons give us an inside look at the past and are a valued collectable worth saving for future generations. And besides, they can still be used to stir your favorite drink.
If you’re looking for swizzles for your next party ask your parents, they probably have a box full somewhere. Or you can purchase swizzle sticks from the company started by Jay Sindler, they’re still in business. Spirit Foodservice, Inc has a fantastic web site with eco-friendly and biodegradable options. Marketing Manager Rachel Pantely tells us that swizzles are hotter than ever with the increased interest in retro cocktails. www.spiritfoodservice.com
Stephen Visakay is author of Vintage Bar Ware (Collector Books 1997) and has written for antique, collectible, and trade magazines. His cocktail shaker exhibition, “Shaken, Not Stirred, Cocktail Shakers and Design” has been featured in museums nationwide, including The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, The Louisiana State Museum, and The Milwaukee Art Museum. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maddy Lederman is a writer and a filmmaker. email@example.com
I was so excited last night when our ad men ended up at the Playboy Club. I’ve always had a strange fascination with the place.
The first Playboy Club opened in Chicago on February 29 (Leap Year), 1960 and was a success from the moment the doors were opened. The Playboy Club was a classy (no kidding) place that Newsweek eventually called “Disneyland for adults.” Early entertainers in that first Playboy Club included before-they-were-famous Aretha Franklin and Barbara Streisand.
The Playboy Club eventually expanded to include more than 40 clubs and resorts. In Cincinnati, our own Playboy Club opened in September, 1964. It was located at 35 East 7th Street (current address of The Lodge Bar) and was in business for 19 years. Headliners in our own Club included Henny Youngman, Red Foxx, and Flip Wilson. You might have even heard Bootsy Collins performing in the lounge. From what I’ve read, the best years were between 1964 and 1976. In 1976, the Playboy Club concept moved from classy joint to more of a disco club and continued to change with the times. Our local club closed its doors in September, 1983.
I collect swizzle sticks and there are several Playboy sticks in my collection that I can only assume came from my parents. I called my Mom this morning and, to my surprise, my parents had a membership to the Cincinnati Playboy Club. My Mom won the membership from a radio station contest around 1975. Mom says she always enjoyed the club because “it had a great atmosphere. You would take an elevator up, as it wasn’t on the ground floor, and then just step into the club.” She remembers plush surroundings, with couch areas for conversation. Apparently my parents went to the club and restaurant quite often. I tried to find out what they used to drink. Mom thinks she drank something with vodka in it that tasted like lemonade.
Playboy Bunnies were by far the most famous part of the Clubs. Bunnies underwent strict training and weigh-ins. They also had to be able to identify 143 types of liquor and garnish over 20 cocktails. Bunnies were not allowed to date or mingle with the customers and, on the part of the customers, touching a Bunny was forbidden. A move I’ve always loved is the Bunny Dip. It’s a graceful way of bending slightly backwards to deliver and pickup drinks without bursting out of the Bunny Bustier. Something I always loved is that Playboy Bunnies were curvy girls, which was attractive back in the 60s. Famous bunnies include Deborah Harry (Blondie), Sherilyn Fenn, and Lauren Hutton.
In 2006, the Playboy Club reopened in (where else?) Las Vegas at The Palms. Some friends and I visited the Club in 2009 and I loved it. It’s classy and lush, with plenty of couches and a rich gold and red decor. One entire wall is digitized, displaying randomized images of Playboy magazine covers throughout the years. The Bunny costumes are still classy and the Bunnies still do the Bunny Dip.
The Club is near the top of the Palms tower and overlooks all of Las Vegas. You can take a private escalator up to Moon, the nightclub with a retractable roof and always-open patio section. Personally, I preferred the Playboy club though – classy cocktails and an environment where I could chat with my friends. If you ever go, cover can run up to $40 on a weekend night. When we went (a Thursday, I believe), the guys each paid a $20 cover and I’m pretty sure the girls were all free.
Perhaps the reason I love Mad Men is the same reason I’m fascinated with the Playboy Club. It’s a piece of history where women weren’t a size 2, bars were classy and encouraged cocktails and conversation, and the clothes were amazing. Could I live back then? No. I’m far too independent. I probably relate the most to Faye on Mad Men. But I love the chance to relax in the 60s now and then.
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