Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | January 24, 2013

In Defense of the return of the Three-Martini Lunch

On the TV show Mad Man, Don Draper walks into his office every single day and pours a drink. It’s not Happy Hour, but something like 10 AM. During the rest of the day, he is sure to consume quite a few of those, and of course there will be the three-martini lunch and a few more cocktails before dinner is finally served.

That kind of behavior would be unacceptable today. Starting from the mid-70s when a tee totaling Jimmy Carter denounced the ‘$50 dollar lunch’ as a damaging tax write-off that was actually being subsidized by the working class, the idea of drinking during the day became less and less tolerated. These days, being mildly intoxicated at work may cost you your job – but really, should it really be that way?

I recall that when I was working at a bank in Sao Jose dos Campos, a mid-size industrial town about 50 miles from Sao Paulo, restaurants would always include feijoada, a stew made with black beans and pork on Wednesdays, and the dish almost always was served with a complimentary caipirinha. We would eat, drink and go back to work, no issue or problem about it (and yes, the management would do the same).

Before anyone starts bombarding me with emails saying I am encouraging being drunk at work, let me say that I am not saying that people who operate heavy machinery or who treat patients should be bringing flasks to work or anything like that. However, why should the same rule apply to creative folks?  A recent article by Benjamin Reeves of the  International Business Times reminds readers that “The three-martini lunch was at its heyday in the 1950s, the most prosperous decade in the nation’s history,” and places a question: was this just “a coincidence?”

On the same piece, Reeves states a study in which “researchers at the University of Illinois found that intoxicated individuals solved more problems on a Remote Associations Test than sober people.” Another piece by Joel Stein on Bloomberg Business Week stated that the long-lost tradition might even be making a comeback, although in a more secretive manner.  On his article, he states that “from midtown Manhattan restaurants to strip-mall McCormick & Schmick’s, professionals are making the drinking lunch work for them.”

Whether such findings might not be entirely true (I don’t eat lunch in restaurants, so I have no way of verifying that), I think that loosening up today’s alcohol policies could be beneficial, as long as people are responsible about it. Sure, there will always be those who prefer to eat at their desks while doing something more productive like updating their Facebook statuses or staring at a spreadsheet, but at least there will be an option.

Cocktail recipes:

Caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail)

1 lime, sliced thinly

1 tsp sugar

Ice cubes to taste

2 oz. cachaca (Brazil’s national spirit – can be substituted with white rum)

In a cocktail cup, mash the lime and sugar together with a pestle. Add ice and cachaca and shake. Serve in tall glass.

Smoky Margarita (Makes 1 drink)

Kosher salt

Chipotle powder

1 1/2 ounces tequila, preferably 100 % Agave Reposado

1/2 ounce peach-flavored liquor

2 ounces orange juice

Kosher salt

3/4 ounce simple syrup

1 ounce fresh lime juice

Lime wheel for garnish

Rub salt and chipotle powder around the rim of a margarita glass. Add tequila, peach liquor, orange juice, 2 dashes chipotle powder, simple syrup and lime juice to a shaker filled with ice. Strain or serve over the rocks and garnish with lime wheel.

— From of Patron Tequila


  1. Now, about the three martini lunch.

    I think it is fine. I used to find that a few drinks at lunch made the rest of my day go ever so nicely. Problem was I could not stop at a FEW drink. The rest of my team could and often did so.

    No objection to a few drinks at lunch as long as you can maintain control.

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