Christopher Buckley on One Too Many

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Buckley

In one of the many scenes in "Mad Men" having to do with drinking, Roger Sterling, played to perfection by John Slattery, goes mano a mano with Don Draper over oysters and Martinis. Roger instructs the waiter, "And don't let me see the bottom of this glass."

At the end of this conspicuous consumption, they walk up the stairs and Roger casually vomits. Oh, for the early 1960s, when America ruled the world and its captains of industry drank three martinis for lunch. Now, in our decline, they drink fizzy water.

I was about 10 then, still virginal in matters alcoholic, but already well aware that the word "martini" had iconic--hic-onic?--resonance. Does not the very shape of the martini glass connote cocktail?

My parents did not drink them--bourbon for my mother, Scotch for my father--but it seemed that all the other grown-ups did. Once I tagged along to the Oak Room at the old Plaza Hotel. In my memory, everyone ordered them, which made the Oak Room seem not so much a bar as an altar upon which the martini was consecrated and served to the congregation.

At about this time the first James Bond movie appeared, in which Sean Connery memorably orders the barman: "Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred." "Shaken, not stirred" entered the language as the sine qua non of sophistication. (Or affectation.) Years later, reading one of the Ian Fleming novels, I came across Bond's actual formula: "Medium vodka dry martini, shaken not stirred." Of course, it was not only the method of preparation, but also the vodka by which Fleming was signaling us that Bond was exotic, a rebel, an iconoclast, apart from the herd. Most self-respecting Brits or Americans of the day considered a proper martini to be made from gin. …