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Mad Men Travel Destinations
March 27, 2015
by Jamie Beckman
As seen on TV! We’ve followed Don Draper for seven seasons as he’s crisscrossed the globe, be it via Cadillac or TWA flight. As the final episodes air, we’re taking you back to the Golden Age of travel with a ’Mad Men’-inspired vacation guide for retro-style trips to cities Don visited.
The days of boarding a plane in a sharp suit or tailored dress, lighting a cigarette, and promptly being handed a drink by a smiling flight attendant in knee-high boots have gone the way of the buffalo—unless you’re watching Mad Men. The stylized parade of free in-air cocktails and classy airport lounges makes it tempting to yearn for a time when people treated the inside of an airplane with as much respect as a church. But as devastatingly chic as the show makes the 1960s look (even the road trips!), there’s one thing about the present day that Budget Travelers should be fiercely thankful for: Air travel is much more accessible now than it was in the ’60s.
"Commercial air travel was a very exclusive means of transportation that most people couldn’t afford," says Michael J. Allen, associate professor of history at Northwestern University, who taught a class called "Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960–1965." "And it really would have been oriented largely around work, as it is in Don’s life."
Cheers to no longer needing an ad-man salary to travel—but you can still experience the romance of midcentury getaways. We’ll show you how! Like a secretary in the typing pool, we’ve created your itinerary for these Mad Men vacation destinations before the final seven episodes air starting April 5.
Honolulu, Hawaii: Megan and Don’s Honeymoon
Episode: "The Doorway," Season 6: What beach junkie didn’t envy Megan Draper as she called "Mahalo" from under a floppy hat while exchanging an empty tropical cocktail for a full one? We’ll take the Oahu honeymoon at the Royal Hawaiian, the bronze tan, and the Pucci-style bikini, thanks.
As depicted in the show, in Don’s day Hawaii was a military hub for personnel passing through during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam—but with a romantic bent. "Military personnel’s wives could fly to Hawaii, oftentimes at reduced prices to visit their loved ones," professor Allen says. "It was a popular destination that many Americans wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to otherwise. It was evocative of both Asia and Polynesia, but it was a very Americanized space, so it had the best of both worlds: It was English-speaking, American-dominated, but had certain cultural trappings associated with Asia."
Stay: The Royal Hawaiian—if you want to splurge. Yes, the resort still exists! You’ll need a rock-solid savings plan—or a Draper-like wallet—to wedge it into your vacation budget, but the authenticity could be worth it to hardcore fans (from $375). The show was shot at the hotel, dubbed the "Pink Palace of the Pacific"; the newly married Drapers shared the chi-chi King Kamehameha Suite. You might remember the gorgeous ocean view that slowly came into focus as Megan stepped onto the balcony in a billowing caftan. Order an old-fashioned à la Don at the beachside Mai Tai Bar. It’s not the koa-wood prop wet bar built for the show and plopped onto the Coconut Lanai, but the Scratch Mai Tai is the hotel’s original recipe, concocted with fresh-squeezed orange and pineapple juices. Not eager to dole out cash at a Roger Sterling clip? The Aqua Waikiki Wave offers private lanais, ocean views, and an updated twist on retro orange ’60s decor for a third of the price (from $127).
Eat: The tiki trend was huge in midcentury America, and dining at La Mariana Tiki Bar and Restaurant, with its rattan chairs, glass globes, and umbrella-speared cocktails, is the closest you can get to partaking in the fad without a time machine. Opened in 1957, the space displays tchotchkes like tikis and tables from pioneering tiki bars like Don the Beachcomber. Sip a potent zombie and try the ahi poke pupu (entrées from $12).
Do: You could solemnly read Dante’s Inferno on Waikiki Beach, but the Royal Hawaiian’s ’Aha’aina luau is still a big draw: Each Monday, the hotel puts on a traditional feast complete with seven lavish food stations (including one for pig-carving) and a live show not unlike the one the Drapers watched. Yes, there is hula dancing—and an open bar ($179 per person).
Detroit, Michigan: Playground for GM Execs
Episodes: "For Immediate Release" and "In Care Of" (notably), Season 6: Detroit is much more than the place where Ken Cosgrove gets his eye shot out and Pete Campbell reverses a brand-new Chevy into a towering glass GM sign. Now out of bankruptcy, the city has experienced a nosedive in downtown crime and a foodie renaissance, thanks to restaurants like local-ingredient-driven Selden Standard and Slows Bar B Q. The American public is catching on too: Searches for Detroit hotels were up 29 percent last year, according to Hotels.com. Before you mingle with the new hipster entrepreneurs, appreciate the ghosts who built Motor City.
Stay: The St. Regis Detroit. That’s right, you can afford the St. Regis! Even better, it’s near the Art Deco–style Fisher Building, an impossible-to-miss fixture of the Detroit skyline, across the street from the old GM headquarters (from $118 per night). Or tip your fedora to the past at the Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront, formerly the see-and-be-seen Pontchartrain Hotel (a.k.a. The Pontch), the height of hotel luxury when it was built in 1965 (from $142 per night). You can still take the elevator up to the 25th floor for a cocktail and a long look at the view of the Detroit River at the ritzy rooftop restaurant The Top of the Pontch.
Eat: Treat yourself to a steak or dip into a happy-hour shrimp cocktail at the London Chophouse, once the gathering spot for Max Fisher, Henry Ford II, and the auto magnates of the ’50s and ’60s. It’s been restored to match its history with such care you can practically see Roger Sterling slurping oysters in the corner (entrées from $28). Try your luck at reserving coveted booth No. 1: "Those guys would fight over booth No. 1: The first guy in got it," says Michael O’Callaghan, executive vice president of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. Or grab a "ground round" hamburger topped with Velveeta on the honor system at Miller’s Bar, where Lee Iacocca and other execs used to convene—William Clay Ford Jr. still stops by (from $5.50).
Do: Marvel at the four-wheeled beauties at the Cadillac-LaSalle Club Museum (from $12). Don bought a sexy 1962 Cadillac Coupe de Ville at Roger’s urging, and after seeing the 10,000-square-foot museum’s collection of autos and memorabilia, you’ll understand why.
Palm Springs, California: Don Meets a Group of Mysterious Jet-Setters
Episode: "The Jet Set," Season 2: Who was that leisure-driven, overeducated, well-dressed clan that Don hung out with in Palm Springs? The "idle rich" is one way to describe them. "That kind of milieu is common in films from the 1960s, and it’s often supposed to represent a kind of cosmopolitan elite that has a ton of leisure time and, I think, is usually fictional," professor Allen says. "It’s designed for an American audience that works hard to suggest that there’s some sort of world out there that’s different from the commonplace humdrum of American society." Good thing you don’t have to be a Slim Aarons–approved heiress to experience Palm Springs like they did. (And anyone can challenge—or annoy—their friends with the "Places" parlor game: Name a city that starts with the last letter of the place named by the player before you. Don deftly follows up "Sarajevo" with "Oslo.")
Stay: The gorgeous, cube-like home pictured in the show is actually the Fox Residence, former home of Frank Sinatra, located in L.A.’s Chatsworth neighborhood and now on sale for a cool $7.5 million. You can get that same vibe by renting a vacation home with friends in Palm Springs. The three-bedroom, two-bath Palm Springs Private Oasis on HomeAway.com is a good facsimile of the Fox, with its soaring sliding glass doors, a massive combination pool and hot tub, and haute midcentury design trappings like a Noguchi coffee table and Saarinen womb chairs (from $250 per night). If you have a month to burn, like those jet-setters, the Stan Sackley-designed Desert Contemporary Vacation Home will run you only $167 a night (plus utilities) if you rent it for 30 days.
Eat: Will you order the steak Diane or the vichyssoise (à la Betty ordering room service at the Savoy) for your big vacation dinner at old Hollywood hangout Melvyn’s Restaurant? Tough call. But leave room for one of the classic desserts that the frozen-in-time restaurant has been serving for years: Cherries jubilee and bananas foster are two options (entrées from $23).
Do: Nobody does midcentury-modern architecture like Palm Springs. Learn about the sleek buildings born out of the Desert Modernism movement at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s new Architecture and Design Center, itself a restored glass-and-steel midcentury wonder ($5).
Rome, Italy: Don and Betty’s European Getaway
Episode: "Souvenir," Season 3: Imagine leaving for Rome one day and coming back the nDo: So many Mad Men activities, so little time! Sit on the (temporary) promotional Mad Men logo silhouette Draper Bench outside the Time & Life Building, fictional headquarters of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (Sixth Avenue and 50th Street). Nearby, browse the racks at Bergdorf Goodman, thought to be the inspiration for Menken’s department store. Downtown, take a stroll through leafy Greenwich Village and make an afternoon pit stop at White Horse Tavern, where you might have found Don’s Season 1 girlfriend Midge Daniels talking to Jack Kerouac. Or let someone else lead: Mad Men Tours (both daytime and cocktail-based) cost $59 and up. Wanna party with other obsessives? Buy a ticket to The Salon: Mad Men event at Gramercy social club The Players on April 10 and drink a cocktail made with actual liquor from the Mad Men set while watching go-go dancers perform (from $50).
Bonus Mad Men-style Getaways
Canada and the U.S.: Pretend you’re Canada-born Megan Draper on Porter Airlines, a Toronto-based carrier less than a decade old that flies to 20 destinations in the U.S. and Canada, and sets itself apart with retro pillbox hat–wearing flight attendants, no middle seats, and free beer and wine in actual glassware.
Everywhere: Travel posters from the middle of last century were works of art all by themselves. The 14-pound hardcover book Airline Visual Identity 1945–1975, by Matthias C. Hühne, pays homage to ads from companies like Mad Men darling TWA and Air France by using 17 different colors, five varnishes, and state-of-the-art foil printing and embossing techniques to replicate the original artwork. The quality and size commands a steep price, but design geeks will consider forking over the cash ($255).
Finger Lakes, New York: Built in 1951, the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., just unveiled a spectacular new Contemporary Art + Design Wing, which houses cutting-edge glass sculptures illuminated with halos of natural light from the roof above. But if you die for Betty Draper’s vintage casserole dishes with the same fervor as you do high art, make a pilgrimage to the museum’s "America’s Favorite Dish: Celebrating a Century of Pyrex" exhibit, opening June 6 (from $9).
Catskills, New York: Jealous that Joan Harris and her Mary Kay saleslady friend got to experience The Electric Circus and you didn’t? Take a detour to The Roxbury Motel, in New York State’s Catskill Mountains, which honors midcentury roadside motels via bright, bizarre decor. Piet Mondrian’s art inspired the Partridge Nest room; George’s Spacepad has a glowing bathtub and hologram tiles seemingly plucked straight out of an episode of The Jetsons. Before you leave, visit the lobby’s new Bossa Nova Bathroom: Step inside, and the lights flick on, bossa-nova music plays, swaying palm trees are projected onto one wall, and a coconut oil fragrance wafts in. "You immediately feel like you’re on Ipanema Beach in Rio in 1965," says owner Gregory Henderson (from $90 per night).
It wasn’t a lengthy getaway, but Betty took what she could get after Conrad Hilton called Don and asked him to come check out his new property last-minute. Traveling to Europe by air (rather than the less-expensive Caribbean or Hawaii) would have been out of reach for most middle-class Americans in 1963. When they planned a vacation, "for most people it would have been a road trip to somewhere warm, like Florida or California," professor Allen says.
Stay: Too bad we can’t all have Connie Hilton foot the bill for our European trip, but the Hilton in Rome that Don and Betty visited is still standing—and now a Waldorf Astoria. Rooms at the Rome Cavalieri are surprisingly reasonable at the current exchange rate, and significantly more ornate than they were back when the hotel first opened (from about $200 per night). Even the least expensive rooms have an option to upgrade to the same Rome view that the Drapers took in.
Eat: Order an asti spumante (sweet white sparkling Italian wine) just like Betty, except do it at the tourist-friendly but tasty Giggetto, near the Portico D’Ottavio. Open since 1923, the restaurant drapes its outdoor tables with white tablecloths, similar to the fountainside ones Don and Betty perched at. We hear the classic dishes, like amatriciana or carbonara, are the ones to order.
Do: If you’re craving a Betty Draper–esque high-fashion updo, you can indeed request a hairdresser at the Rome Cavalieri’s Grand Spa. A more economical option in Italy: The simple (free) pleasure of listening for ringing church bells. Betty appreciated those too, if not the Colosseum charm Don gave her later.
Baltimore, Maryland: Don and Sal Fly the (Very) Friendly Skies
Episode: "Out of Town," Season 3: We’ll classify Don and Sal Romano’s sojourn to Baltimore for a meeting with London Fog as "pleasure" rather than "business." The swanky Belvedere Hotel, where all the antics went down, has since been turned into condos, and the city’s Inner Harbor waterfront, formerly home to only the water and one hotel, transformed into a visitor-friendly collection of restaurants and museums. Word of the city’s rejeuvenation is reaching the rest of the U.S.—searches for Charm City lodgings have increased 34 percent since 2013, says Hotels.com.
Stay: The landmark Lord Baltimore Hotel, which counts Martin Luther King, Jr., among its famous guests. Built in 1928, the downtown hotel has been recently renovated but retains an old-school elegance, with opulent chandeliers in the lobby and ballroom and gray-and-black room decor inspired by menswear fabrics and intended to impart a "private-club aesthetic" (from $109 per night).
Eat: The "hotel" portion of the Belvedere Hotel is long gone, but its 100-plus-year-old Owl Bar speakeasy endures. Hugely popular with Prohbition-era train travelers rolling from New York to Miami, the bar’s patrons would look to the owl statue to see if it blinked. If so, the coast was clear and they could score hooch...and other, um, supplies. Be a part of the storied history and order a $3 happy hour cocktail, house wine, or beer, but prepare your stomach first by chowing down on an open-face steak sandwich: Freddy Rumsen would approve of the stack of beef, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and steak sauce (sandwiches from $9)... Freddy, however, would select a root beer float in lieu of the booze ($7).
Do: Browse the shelves at Atomic Books, an independent shop with a robust respect for all things vintage. Stock ranges from the book Yé-Yé Girls of ’60s French Pop (the style of Megan Draper’s unforgettable rendition of "Zou Bisou Bisou") to special-interest ’zines like Cinema Retro, devoted to classic ’60s and ’70s films. We’re not entirely sure what Don would have thought of filmmaker John Waters’ late-1960s work, but the Baltimore legend still receives his fan mail at the bookstore.
Disneyland, Anaheim, California: Don Proposes to Megan
Episode: "Tomorrowland," Season 4: As TV vacations go, the season 4 finale had it all: a road trip, Disneyland, mouthwatering diner food, the Whiskey a Go Go, and an out-of-the-blue proposal. It’s quite the clever twist that Don, who would later deliver the line "But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness," visits the "The Happiest Place On Earth"—and a noted consumer’s paradise.
"Disneyland is a fascinating thing that obscures the present and privileges the past and the future," professor Allen says. "It suggests that the past and the future are this seamless web, and the future and all of its problems are dematerialized within that context. It’s a highly appealing vision of American life to a lot of people—that there’s some kind of continuum that stretches back to the founding fathers and stretches forward into Tomorrowland, and that our technology can change, but something timeless about ourselves never changes."
Stay: The idyllic pool scene where the Draper kids took a dip was shot in Santa Monica, but the Hampton Inn & Suites Anaheim/Garden Grove—yes, there’s a big swimming pool!—is a 10- to 15-minute drive from the parks, and the hotel has a $5 round-trip shuttle to deliver you there and back if you’d rather avoid paying the $17 for parking at Disney (from $125 per night). Also appropriate: The Howard Johnson Anaheim, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, counts a kid-friendly waterpark and an 8-minute walk to the parks among its perks (from $165).
Eat: Bob’s Big Boy Broiler, in Downey, California. Sally Draper famously knocked over her milkshake at this very restaurant, recently reconstructed based on the location’s 1958 blueprints. "In this scene, the milkshake had to be spilled just right, so we probably made up a dozen strawberry shakes!" says public relations rep Adriene Biondo. "And boy do they get everything right. When they set up the restaurant for filming, they brought in pies and set decorations that were spot-on. Even a stack of menus from back in the day that were exact reproductions of our original menus." Five dollars buys you a shake of your own; the perennially popular Big Boy burger with fries is $8. Even cooler: Every Wednesday evening, the restaurant holds Cruise Night: Collectors, owners, and aficionados drive their classic cars into the parking lot and show them off to admirers (free).
Do: Disneyland, naturally! A one-day pass costs $99—or buy access to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park for $56 more. If your mouse-eared family vacation takes you to the other coast, at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for a true throwback experience, it’s hard to beat Tomorrowland’s quaint, animatronics-heavy Carousel of Progress. It was dreamed up by Walt Disney himself for the 1964/’65 World Fair and anticipates a bright, space-age future that involves voice-controlled ovens.
New York, New York: Home of Don Draper
Episodes: All of them: Technically not a vacation spot since Don lives on the Upper East Side, New York City is a certain kind of respite for the ad execs from their home lives—even Peggy Olson and Joan Harris. These are just a few of many standout spots from the show that are still around today.
Stay: The high-class hotels that many of the characters—especially hotel hound Roger Sterling—frequented are a little rich for most travelers’ blood. Even the rock-bottom rates at The Pierre, where Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce first set up shop when they broke off on their own, start in the mid-$400s. In comparison, The Roosevelt Hotel, in Midtown, where Don stayed after Betty booted him out of Ossining, N.Y., in season 2, is shockingly affordable—we found deals online from $189 per night. Get a bird’s-eye view of Madison Avenue at the 19th-floor outdoor rooftop bar, Mad46.
Eat: The Third Avenue location of P.J. Clarke’s, the after-work Midtown joint where Pete devastates Peggy as she swivels toward him doing the Twist, is a New York City mainstay. Grab a martini at the often-packed bar or a burger in the back (hamburgers from $10). Going on a date? Don took debutante Bethany Van Nuys to lavishly decorated Barbetta in the Theater District for champagne and Piemontese cuisine—and awkwardly bumped into Betty and Henry Francis (entrées from $18).
Click here to view all the great photos and the rest of the story as it originally appeared.