The 1970s was a time of big things, big cars, big lapels, big movies and big drinks. The huge, colorful, garish cocktails full of fruit, sugar and vodka still exemplify the single’s lifestyle entering the last quarter of the century. One can’t think of a drink like the Harvey Wallbanger without imagining leisure suits, bell bottoms, knit dresses, and an odd sense of self declared sophistication amid a sea of polyester and vinyl. Such is also the case with the Bunny Mother, a cocktail from the San Francisco outpost of the Playboy Club, destination of choice for the jet set and the fabulous, or so you’d believe. It can’t be said that Playboy created the Space Age Bachelor vibe, or its 70s wood paneled adjunct, but they sure did commercialize the template, refine the fantasy, and sell it all in neatly packaged plain brown wrappers.
Playboy was a magazine like no other. There were men’s magazines in 1953, some, like Esquire, full of every day content for the modern man, and others, like the kind you’d find for sale at the liquor store which were all full of pictures. You couldn’t have both. Sure, you could find pinup illustrations in Esquire and every magazine of the day, but the photo books you had to ask for, and there wasn’t much else in them because there didn’t have to be. No one who ever bought a copy of Swank bought it looking for recipes. Hugh Hefner noticed this and put it all together in a magazine built on the idea of quality content for men. Playboy would have superb writing, would cover all topics from movies to music to culture to fashion, and, the part everyone thinks of first, pinup pictures.
The man who reads Playboy, according to Hefner, is every man. Hefner saw Playboy as an urban lifestyle magazine and the urban lifestyle had alot going for it. Playboy eventually became the playbook for the modern bachelor, full of intellectual essays, contemporary and now classic literature, the latest trends in fashion, the fastest cars, and all the women. You could learn stuff from Playboy, such as how to buy the best hi-fi, how to recognize quality shoes, or how to make the finest drinks. What wine goes with fondue? Check Playboy. There was even a TV show, Playboy After Hours, where you could see it all in action in an hour long showcase of jazz music, beautiful women, and intellectual discourse with learned guests. It was the jet set fantasy of the 1960s echoed and sold in the pages of the magazine and you could join in, too, at any of the now many Playboy Clubs. And what do you drink while listening to Bitches Brew and discussing the works of Cheever, Roth and Vonnegut? Those same garish cocktails with lots of orange juice in funny looking glasses. You do have a copy of Playboy’s Host and Bar Book, don’t you? By the time the 70s rolled around Playboy was a script for every material fantasy, a media powerhouse at its zenith, and an established part of the cultural landscape.
One could make a case that the lounge culture of the 70s was Modernism’s denouement. Playboy, one of its beacons, began fading at the beginning of 1972, never again regaining its stature among the magazines, eclipsed by more explicit and sexually focused competitors, left behind as readers grew up, acquired families, responsibilities, and split level homes. Hefner’s view of sophisticated urban bachelorhood fell before an onslaught of recession, gas shortages, hostages, suburban sprawl and the approaching greed of the 1980s, but for a moment, we had the Playboy Clubs, the plastic, prepackaged lifestyle destinations where anyone could play at being marvelous. In the end, it was all a fantasy, created and sold by movie studios, novelists, and a mass media looking for the next demographic, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, the Baby Boomer, the relic of the last American generation to do better in life than their parents, and who would, later in life, adorn their RVs with bumper stickers proudly announcing, “I’m spending my kid’s inheritance.”
This is what drinks like the Bunny Mother are all about. They are the faux-fabulous accouterments of the lifestyle fantasy that not even Hugh Hefner could maintain. Over the years, Hefner’s star fell along with the fortunes of his creation, a magazine of a bygone era for a generation that is relevant no more. Yet no one noticed. While Hefner spent month after month publishing superior quality content, and opining the leisure suit as a lost cultural marker, Generation X was busy building the Internet, the final hammer blow to a, by then, hollow empire, itself another bit of kitsch, a relic of a lost age.
So what about the drink? It’s a Screwdriver with some other stuff in it. Isn’t that what all those drinks were? Vodka, orange juice, and crayons? Make no mistake, we love kitsch drinks, especially the big colorful ones, but we love them for their kitsch value, for what we can do with them, and for what we can make of them if we pour them with quality and care, sort of like imagining Hugh Hefner looking at men’s magazines in 1953 and saying, “it should be better than this,” and then, for a moment, it is.
Shake everything except the Cointreau with ice, and strain into an ice filled collins glass. Float the Cointreau on top. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.
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